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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Small business CEO shares productivity tips

by Yehuda Cagen 19. October 2010 09:17



Our Houston IT consulting experts are constantly striving to help C-level executives of small and midsize businesses improve their employee’s productivity.  

But what about the executives themselves?

How do they make sure they’re making the best use of their time?

Small business CEO shares productivity tips

Small business owners are, by definition, too busy.  As a result, it’s really important that we all find ways to continually tweak our work habits to make them more efficient. As the co-owner of an SEO consulting company, this is something I’ve had to routinely do.  Some of the big things I’ve changed that have helped me are respecting my own time, keeping others on track and accountable, and cutting out low-value activities during the day.

  1. Respecting my own time: As small business owners, we want to help everyone.  We’ll gladly stop what we’re doing to troubleshoot something for someone else or reschedule a call someone else canceled in the middle of our busy today.   However, doing this is detrimental to our schedules.  I’ve found that the more I respect my own time, the more I force others to respect it, as well. If they know that I’ll cancel a meeting they’re late to, they’re more likely to show up on time.  Little things like that add up.
  2. Making others accountable:  Some time ago I noticed that I was losing a big chunk of my day to unfocused conversations and meetings.   We’d come together to talk about one thing and then we’d wander off to a completely different topic and get stuck off-track.  This was robbing hours from my day.  To help turn it, I’ve found gentle ways to help keep things focused and bring people back to the topic when they stray off it.  You’ve decided to meet for a reason – make sure you’re making good on it. Otherwise it’s not a meeting, it’s a water-cooler session.
  3. Cutting out low value activities during the day:  Your best friend is having a relationship crisis, your mother can remember the name of girl you had a fight with twenty years ago, and OMG, is there a great flame war happening on Twitter right now!  These things are all time sucks and do nothing but distract you from your day. I’ve made a conscious decision to not let these things enter my day. Again it goes back to respecting your own time.  If you’re strict about what you will and will not break your work routine for, other people will learn to respect it, as well.

These productivity tips were contributed by guest-blogger Lisa Baron, CEO, Outspoken Media. 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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Free Small Business Seminar: Is Your Data Safe? Understanding IT Risks and Threats

by Yehuda Cagen 18. October 2010 12:14


Rethink, rebuild and reinforce your business with a workshop that will give you the tools you need to complete a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan for your data. Join us on October 27th, at 8:30 a.m., when Houston computer service and IT support specialist Richard Thompson will give you easy-to-digest, practical advice on protecting your small business.

A continental breakfast will be provided for registered attendees.

What you’ll take away from this workshop:

• A solid understanding of how to identify the IT risks to your business, including cyber security threats

• A knowledge of how to backup your data prior to a disaster and access your data after a disaster

• Steps you can take to restore data and applications following a disaster


8:30 AM - 10:30 AM

Location: Johnnie Arolfo Civic Center, 400 W. Walker
League City, Texas 77573


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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”.


Testing the Cloud

by Yehuda Cagen 6. October 2010 09:03




Much like energy providers reduce the need for customers to generate their own electricity, utility computing allows organizations to pay only for the technology resources they need, without the risks and capital costs of purchasing and maintaining a complex IT network.

Certainly, the cloud computing "buzz" is spreading. Unfortunately, so is the number of IT consulting firms that are arbitrarily throwing cloud computing solutions into their service offerings – without the prerequisite experience or expertise.

 From remote pc solutions to remote pc support, it seems that everyone’s getting in on the “cloud” game.

Taking a Test Run in the Cloud

In an earlier post, we suggested a few steps to take when choosing a computer service provider.  One of the most important steps is to ask for a trial of the solution.

Xvand Technology Corporation recently joined some of today’s top cloud computing providers in helping small business executives determine what to test when considering a cloud computing solution.   

You can read the complete article at Inc. Magazine’s website: Take Test Run in the Cloud >>.


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Taking a Picture of Your Computer Screen (Printscreen)

by Yehuda Cagen 29. September 2010 07:18

Have you ever wanted to send a picture of your screen via email or inserted in a document and you just didn’t know how?


Did you receive an error message that was long and you didn’t want to write the entire thing down to remember it?


Wouldn’t it be great to take a picture of an error message and send it within an email to the helpdesk?  


You can. With the Print “Screen Function”


If you desire the entire screen shot:

·         Select the Print Screen key on your keyboard, sometimes you may have to use Ctrl-Print Screen.

This acts as a copy function, taking a picture of the screen.


If you only want the “active” or “front” window on your screen:

·         Press and hold the ALT key and then hit the Print Screen key.


This will save you time and it is a great way to show someone what you are seeing instead of explaining it.



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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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