Defining Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Needs

RecoveryWhat kind of Technology do you use?   Is your entire business on a single Desktop PC or Notebook?  Does your office use a File Server or multiple Application Servers? Do you have multiple offices?  Do you have just a few employees or an office of hundreds?  Are any of your services, such a email already hosted in “The Cloud?” Does your business use traditional phone lines, a PBX, Voice Over IP?  Is your company already using inherently resilient Software-as-a-Service products for Customer Relationship Management, Business Intelligences, Project Management, or Financial/Accounting Services?

Technology is the great equalizer and remarkably, many of the Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Solutions are similar regardless of the size of the organization or specific technologies in use.

Every Business has the same goal:  Restore business operations as quickly as possible.

For example, all Businesses need the following Disaster Recovery Services to achieve Business Continuity as the recovery progresses:
Reliable Communication to Family, Friends, and Emergency Services
Power
Food and Water
Extended Communication Capabilities to Staff, Customers, and the Media
Access to Business Critical Data (Sales and Financial Systems)
Ability to recover and return to normal operations as quickly as possible
Cross-Training of Staff to assist in Rapid Recovery

How these functions are accomplished depends on the scale required to accommodate the number of Staff affected by the Disaster or Disruption to normal business operations.

If you are an individual consultant that only bills once per week and you backup your data after each accounting session, then the inability to bill for a few days may not be an issue.  However, if you are a sales based organization with the need to file customer orders throughout the day, being off-line for more than a day could seriously impact your cash flow.

The key consideration is in designing any Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plan is to determine how much data can you afford to lose between the time of the interruption event and the last backup of your data.  And, how long can you afford to be off-line, without access to your Business Critical Operations before it negatively or permanently impacts your business?

We Need to Move to “The Cloud” – Where to Go?

Cloud Question MarkAs previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”   The next logical question is “Where do we go?”

Dozens of well-known companies offer reliable web hosting for small to medium size Corporate Web Sites without issue.  Although there are thousands of companies offering web hosting services, make sure to do proper due diligence and ask about their infrastructure – the technology behind their product offerings.  Specifically reliability or “up time” and redundancy or duplication of technology if something fails.

Web Site Hosting ranges in price from free to tens of dollars per month for simple sites and from tens to hundreds of dollars for larger content and eCommece Sites.  This is very much of an industry where you get what you pay for.  If your web hosting is free, chances are its’ availability is at the convenience of the Hosting Provider.  In other words, if it is “up” great, if not, “What do you expect for free?”

Be wary of the $1.99 and $9.99 hosting packages.  Many offer nothing more than “Best Efforts” service levels to keep your site up and operational, i.e. “visible” on the Web.  We all know what we do the minute we see “Site not found.”  We immediately move on to the next supplier and probably never return to that original web site.

If your web site is not accessible, to the Internet consumer, it is the equivalent of hanging a sign that says, “Out of Business” on the front door.  Obviously, when one of the major providers has an outage and it makes the National News, you may get a free pass from your Business Customers but for general consumers, unless you are a destination site like a Walmart or Facebook, consumers will probably not return nor make a second attempt to reach you.

If you are wondering why I did not immediately mention the Big 3 in Cloud Hosting, Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure, it is because these are predominantly infrastructure providers.  If you are looking to convert the physical server in your office in to a virtual server and move it to “The Cloud”, then you should certainly be looking at these companies for their respective value proposition.  (By physical server, I am referring to a Server class computer running an Operating System such as Microsoft Windows Server or Linux that is used for storing files or hosting Line of Business applications like Accounting Software, Inventory Control, Email, and similar centralized business applications.)

Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure offer not only the ability to build a Server in “The Cloud” but also target specific services like File Storage, Archiving of Backup Files, Advanced Database Services, and raw computing power for advanced processing like calculating weather patterns and genomes.

You can still benefit from the power and reliability of these behemoths by looking for a Web Hosting company that built their technology on one of these three major providers.  Look for “Powered By” and the appropriate co-branded Logo.  There are never any guarantees that Web Hosting companies that build on the Big 3 will be more reliable than those that build on their own technology but it does offer you a baseline starting point for your research.

If you are looking for Infrastructure Cloud Hosting to move your Servers or specific Line of Business Applications, there are dozens of exceptional providers that meet all of the compliance requirements and have the references and credentials to pass any level of due diligence. Don’t just limit yourself to the Big 3.  In fact, some of the lesser-known Boutique Cloud Hosting Infrastructure providers actually have better Service Level Agreements.

If you are looking for a place to host your company web site or eCommerce store, there are many well known providers available.  Make sure to review the Service Level Agreement to make sure that their offering meets your business requirements for “up time”, support, and recovery.

For a professional assessment or assistance with selecting a Cloud Hosting provider, feel free to contact me at jason@jasonpalmer.com

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – Web Services

Web Services

Web Services

As previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”  The category of Web Services – which includes such applications as Company Web Sites, Blogging Sites, and eCommerce Sites are perhaps the best examples of use cases for “The Cloud.”

My web site, www.jasonpalmer.com is both a Company Web Site with information about Palmer Computer Services, Inc. and the Consulting Services offered by me, Jason Palmer, as well as a blogging site based on WordPress.  Since the information is inherently for public consumption, it makes perfect sense for the site to be hosted outside my corporate network and in “The Cloud.”

The key advantage is obvious:  If the web site is hosted off-site in “The Cloud”, and there is no direct connection between “The Cloud” hosted web site and the corporate network, then even if the web site is hacked, the damage is completely contained.  The site can be restored from a backup and returned to service relatively quickly.

Another advantage of hosting the Company Web Site in the “The Cloud” is that it is assumed that most Enterprise Class Hosting companies will have significantly more computer technology infrastructure and layers of redundancy than your own corporate data center or computer room.  Enterprise Class Hosting companies such as Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, Microsoft Azure are extremely robust in their basic offerings and in advanced configurations, provide mission critical “up” time with the ability to mirror a web site globally translating to zero down time.  In general, most Cloud Hosting Providers have Data Centers in multiple regions of the Country as well as around the World.

This enables you to host your web site hundreds or thousands of miles away from your offices so that in the event of a regional disaster, like a Hurricane, the company web site will still be operational.   In a disaster, many companies use their web site to post current operational status information.  For example, a Utility company will post updates on outages and repair progress.  Or, a school or company might post information about closings or shortened hours of operation.

Given that “The Cloud” is a 24-hour, 7 Day a week, 365 Days a Year environment, the larger Cloud Hosting Companies offer around-the-clock service and support with endless amounts of resources.   This enables you to quickly scale your web site to meet scheduled or unscheduled demand at your convenience.

For example, if you run an eCommerce web site, it is presumed that from Thanksgiving to Christmas the number of visitors to your site will increase significantly.  With a Cloud hosted web site, it is relatively easy to increase the capacity of the web site to handle the additional web visitor traffic.  This can be a simple as making a few changes on a control panel to assign more resources and paying an incremental additional fee or calling in to a support representative for assistance.  The theory is that “help” is always available and no matter how much capacity you need, it is available on-demand, without issue.

Another example might be that a company has a positive or negative publicity event causing excessive unplanned traffic from people looking for additional information.  Think “Oil Spill” or “The Royal Birth.”  Normal visitor traffic might be 20,000 people a day but after the event, traffic might spike to ten times that amount to over 200,000 per day (or if a large company, perhaps hundreds of thousands per day to millions per day.)  Cloud Hosted sites can immediately add in the additional capacity for the short period of time to handle the spike in traffic and then gradually back off the additional capacity as traffic levels return to normal.

This type of flexible scalability would be almost impossible to accomplish with most internal corporate data centers.

Moving a company’s Web Services to “The Cloud” assures that, in most cases, the web site can immediately scale to meet increased demand at a nominal incremental cost.  And, that in the case of a regional disaster, given that the web site will be hosted in “The Cloud”, in a data center outside the local area, communication to and access by customers or the general public should continue without issue.

A brief refresher in Traditional Analog and Digital Voice Telephony

Bell System Logo

Bell System Logo

If you have a telephone company provided wall jack for each individual phone line in your home or office, you probably have POTS – Plain Old Telephone Service – an affectionate name for traditional Analog copper phone line service.    This is a physical pair of copper wires that are directly connected between your home or office and the Telephone Company Central Office.  Each pair of copper wires from the Telephone Company provides an individual dial tone and phone number for your Telephone.

Traditionally, it is the responsibility of the Telephone Company Central Office to provide dial tone, line voltage, and ring voltage to that copper pair – the power that makes the phone work.  As many of us remember in the days before the Internet, even if the Utility Power was out, we could still make and receive phone calls.  Telephone sets had mechanical or electronic bells completely powered by the electricity provided from the Telephone Company Central Office.

If you have a larger organization with dozens of telephones and each person has their own direct dial telephone number and/or dedicated extension, you probably have a PBX (Private Branch Exchange – On-Premise Telephone Switch or Phone System) in a closet with one or more Primary Rate Interface (PRI) Digital Circuits from the Telephone Company.   Each PRI is capable of providing up to 23 simultaneous voice conversations.  A PRI is a special type of copper wire circuit, again between the Telephone Company Central Office and your Office.

Unlike the Analog POTS circuit described above, where there is a one to one relationship between the pair of copper and a telephone number, with a PRI, a virtually unlimited quantity of telephone numbers can be supported but only 23 simultaneous voice conversations can occur at one time per PRI circuit.

In either case, the similarities are that there is very long copper wire between the Telephone Company and your home or office.

If you have Telephone Service from a Cable company, you have a hybrid service that is a combination of both Digital and Analog services.  The “long copper wire” described above is replaced by a digital VoIP (Voice Over IP) service provided through a Cable Modem.

VoIP is a fancy term for delivering traditional telephone services over an IP Data Network, in this context, the Internet.

The VoIP service connects back to the Cable Company Telephone Central Office over the same Coaxial Cable that carries your television service.  Your existing telephone plugs in to an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter – usually built in to the Cable Modem) that converts the digital VoIP data in to the traditional Analog, two wire pair that your telephone can use.

If you have Telephone Service from Verizon FiOS, you have a hybrid service that is also a combination of both Digital and Analog services similar to that which is provided by the Cable Company.  The difference is that the digital VoIP (Voice Over IP) service travels through a Fiber Optic Cable as laser pulsed light, instead of as electrical signals through Coaxial Cable, back to the Verizon Telephone Central Office.  Your existing telephone plugs in to an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) that is built in to an ONT – Optical Network Transmission unit.  The ONT is a specialized piece of equipment that converts the laser pulsed light in the Fiber Optic cable to an electrical signal that the ATA can use to provide dial-tone and a telephone number to your single line telephone.

The Telephony infrastructure is changing at a rapid pace.   It is now extremely rare to have an actual single pair of copper wire connected between your home or office and a Telephone Central Office five or twenty five miles away.  From the beginning of telephone service as we know it dating back over a century, this was common practice and exactly how the original AT&T Telephone Network was built.

In the examples above, Verizon FiOS is converting the Analog electrical signal that your telephone needs to a Digital Light Pulse inside the ONT installed in your home or office.   In essence, Verizon has replaced the miles of traditional copper wire with a Fiber Optic Cable directly connecting your home or office to the Verizon Telephone Central Office.

In areas where Verizon cannot bring Fiber Cable directly to your home or office, they replace the hundreds of pairs and miles of copper wire with Fiber Optic Cable to Junction Boxes in each neighborhood.  (One Fiber Optic Cable can replace hundreds or even thousands of copper pairs of wires.)  In each Junction Box is a monster size ONT that does exactly the same thing as the one used in the Verizon FiOS installation in your home or office above:  It converts the Analog Electrical Signals for the hundreds of pairs of copper wires that run from the Junction Box to your home or office in to pulses of light that travel over the Fiber Optic Cable back to the Verizon Central Telephone Office.

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – Moving Telephone Service to the Cloud

Telephone Service in the Cloud

Telephone Service in the Cloud

As previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”  Converting Voice Telephone service from traditional physical copper lines and an on-premise Private Branch Exchange (PBX) Telephone Switch to a Virtual Cloud Based PBX or Hosted Voice over IP Service (VoIP) provides critical Business Communication Continuity.

Telephones and PBX Phone Systems are extremely durable and last for years with minimal maintenance.  In larger office implementations with frequent staff changes or desk moves, there may be fee based professional programming services involved to move an extension or reassign a telephone number to a new staff person or location.

Even if rare, when that PBX in the closet breaks, and it will, the entire office may lose all telephone service until the PBX can be repaired.  As these systems get older, parts may be more difficult to obtain in a timely manner.

Solution:  Move Telephone Service to Voice over IP – VoIP in “The Cloud.”

VoIP is a fancy term for delivering traditional telephone services over an IP Data Network, in this context, the Internet.

Each person uses a specialized VoIP phone that connects just like a computer or tablet directly through the Internet to a PBX (Phone System) in “The Cloud.”  This is known as “Hosted VoIP” – because all of the intelligence of the PBX is remote from your home or office and “Hosted” at a Data Center somewhere in Cyberspace a.k.a. “The Internet.”

The primary advantage of Hosted VoIP is that wherever you have access to the Internet and can plug in your VoIP telephone, you have phone service.  For example, if you take the phone from your office and plug it in to the Internet connection in your home, you can make and receive calls at home.

Many Hosted VoIP providers provide a “soft client” (think Telephone App), that enables you to use your Smartphone to masquerade as your physical VoIP phone to make and receive calls.  The capability is also available for your Windows or Mac computer with a Headset or Microphone and Speakers.  Again, anywhere you have access to the Internet; you have direct access to your Telephone Number and all related Telephony features – such as access to Voice Mail.  All of these features can be self-managed by the user via a web based control panel accessible through any web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari.

If a physical telephone breaks, only that user is affected.  The defective phone can usually be replaced overnight or from a spare kept on the shelf.  The user can always use one of the “soft client” VoIP apps to make and receive calls from their computer or even temporarily take over another phone from a user not in the office.

Think of a VoIP telephone as a specialized computer.  You “Log In” and “Log Out” with a user name and password just like you do to so many other Internet Services (such as Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.)

The other key advantage of Hosted VoIP is that there is no longer an on-premise PBX (box in the closet) to maintain.  Each telephone stands on its’ own.  This usually represents a significant cost savings in on-going maintenance costs and savings in the large capital outlay required for periodic upgrades or full replacement.

Hosted VoIP usually provides a predictable, fixed monthly cost for all Telephone Services.

All telephone system programming is maintained by Enterprise class “Cloud” based Hosted VoIP providers that have massively large, redundant infrastructures that virtually guarantee that Telephone Service will be operational without issue 24/7/365.

Hosted VoIP offers the ultimate in Business Communications Continuity.

Moving Traditional Telephone Service to Hosted VoIP in “The Cloud” assures that critical business communication can continue during a disaster and eliminates a potential point of failure in your communication infrastructure.

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – Move Email First

Email in the Cloud

Email in the Cloud

As previously discussed in my article, “We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality”, I established that there are specific use cases and applications that are prime candidates for “The Cloud.”  One application in particular is Email and its’ use case is Business Communication Continuity.

Email is considered to be the most important business communication medium.  It is the natural extension of paper and has replaced the Fax as a means of providing written documentation of a “meeting of the minds.”    When having any kind of Internet connectivity problem, the first manifestation that most people seem to notice is “Email is down.”

Because people can get to their email on so many platforms, such as their Desktop, via a Web Browser, a Mobile Phone, a Tablet, eReader, or even a Smart TV, and check it so frequently, it becomes immediately obvious if there is a problem with the Email Server.

Ask any Information Technology professional and they will acknowledge that Email Servers require periodic and extensive maintenance.  The amount of disk space used to store new email grows continuously.  As that storage space grows, so does the amount of storage required to back it up.  If a company has compliance and email retention issues, that requires even more space for duplicate archival copies.

The larger the company, the more users delete mail, create folders, and add/remove contacts from address books.  This in-turn means that more frequent Email Server maintenance events are required to reorganize and streamline the Email Server Database Store (which holds all of the email.)  Some maintenance events require the Email Server to be stopped temporarily which can frustrate users, even if scheduled for off-hours like nights and weekends – when email usage should be lowest.

This is nothing new and thousands of Email Administrators have been successfully managing their Email Servers for years without issue.  However, as Email has become the predominant form of business communication, the volume of email has increased significantly creating greater challenges to the status quo.

The inability of a user to send and receive email for any reason is deemed unacceptable.  If an Email Server malfunctions, company management and users may not be willing to tolerate an afternoon or an entire day without the ability to send and receive Email.

Solution:  Move Email to “The Cloud.”

Enterprise class “Cloud” based email providers have massively large, redundant infrastructures that virtually guarantee email will be operational without issue 24/7/365.  (Caveat:  None are perfect.  The largest of the large have had issues.  Google and Microsoft have periodic interruptions in service but they also have the most amounts of resources to throw at the problem for a quick resolution and recovery.  And when this occurs it makes headlines and you will be in good company with million of other affected customers so it is a legitimate excuse.)

Although moving Email to “The Cloud” seems more expensive, because each additional user incurs an increase in the monthly cost versus the relatively fixed cost of maintaining your own Email Server, the savings comes in the elimination of all of the related costs of maintaining your own Email Server.  No longer is there additional staff time for Email Server maintenance, increased costs for additional processing power or storage space for the ever-growing volume of email.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is “Business Communication Continuity”:  The ability to maintain productivity and critical communication during a localized disaster such as a Hurricane, Flood, or Fire that wipes out your home or office.  During Tropical Storm Sandy, many offices and homes were swept away, burned to the ground, or were under water for weeks.  Email Servers along with all other “on-premise” technology were destroyed.  Many had off-site backups and were able to restore their data but for those that hosted and maintained their own Email Servers, Email was unavailable for days or even weeks.

For those that used “The Cloud” to host and maintain their Email, as soon as they could access the Internet, they were able to send and receive Email.

Moving Email to “The Cloud” assures that critical business communication can continue during a disaster and eliminates a potential point of failure in your communication infrastructure.

We Need to Move to “The Cloud.” – The Question vs the Reality

Moving to the CloudThe Cloud is very much like the Weather:   Everyone talks about it but no one seems to really understand it – least of all my clients who seem to all desperately want their businesses to be in it but are not sure why.

The Cloud – in its’ most basic definition – is nothing more than Server infrastructure not physically in your Office.  (A “Server” in this context is usually defined as combination of specialized hardware, operating system, and/or possibly a specific software application.)

So the discussion becomes:  “Why does everyone think they need to be there?” and “When might The Cloud make sense?”

Regardless of the Agenda of any technology meeting, the opening statement by the client is almost universally:   “We need to move to The Cloud.”

Assuming I play along, I respond, “Great, exactly what would you like to move to The Cloud?”  To which the usual response is, “I don’t know – All of our Servers and Applications; everything.  If we are going to stay competitive, we need to be in The Cloud.  Right?”

It is the part where the client moves from a declarative statement to a question that always makes me smile.

For humor, recall that the literal definition of a Cloud in the Weather sense is a visible body of very fine water droplets or a mass of dust or smoke suspended in the atmosphere.  Does this really sound like where you want to place your very important data and information? The Cloud, both weather related and technology are challenging places to do business.

Let’s address the first question:  Why does everyone think their business needs to be in “The Cloud?”  Probably for the same reason that everyone felt they needed an Apple iPod, iPhone, or IPad when they were first introduced.  That’s what all the “cool kids” were carrying.  Seriously, even if you never actually opened it up or turned it on, how could you show up at a C-level meeting and not have an iPad sitting in front of you or not be carrying an iPhone?  Not to take anything away from Apple but there are as many or more users of other MP3 music players, Android/Windows Smartphones, and non-Apple tablets like the Android Samsung Galaxy, Microsoft Slate, and Kindle combined.

Peer pressure and Fads notwithstanding, Function usually follows Form.  If you needed a music player, the iPod was an excellent choice but then again so were hundreds of other brands of MP3 players. (MP3 is a popular format of music files for non-Apple devices.)  If you were not the type to listen to music on the go, then there was really no reason to purchase an iPod or MP3 player.

Is there a valid reason to move your business technology to The Cloud other than, “Everyone’s doing it?”  (Can you not just hear your parents saying, “…and if your friends were jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you follow them…”)

Actual need and use case should always drive the Technology decision process in the company.

Turning the question in to a more focused statement, “Certain people know they need to be in the Cloud as it is the only way they can do business efficiently.”  Specific examples are Startup companies that don’t have the capital to invest heavily in “Big Iron” – (the colloquial name for Server computers).  The Cloud enables them to immediately “spin up” whatever Server technologies they require, and scale up as their needs grow with only a marginal increase in operational cost.

Another typical example is seasonal retail.  Given that stores selling physical goods may do more than 50% of their annual sales during the Holiday Season, does it make any sense to have that amount of excess Server capacity for a three month peak load in their Data Center?  Before The Cloud, there was little choice.  Now with Hybrid Cloud Tools, Retail can scale up to double or triple their Server capacity by extending in to the Cloud so that they can handle the increased volume of sales transactions extremely quickly for only a marginal increase in operational cost.

The short answer, in many cases to the statement, “We need to move to The Cloud” is really one of available Capital ($$$) and Scale.  If you have a business that is in a startup or growth and expansion mode, or has seasonal surge capacity requirements, then yes, “We need to move to The Cloud.”

Note to Reader:  The above is the quick determining factor for the “easy” use case for moving to The Cloud.  Most every business can benefit by utilizing The Cloud in some capacity.  This may include off-site backup, disaster recovery, mission critical operations, or a shift from capital to operational expenditures based on the strengths and weaknesses of the Balance Sheet and Income Statement.

Act! Chronicles – Collaborate on CRM Contacts without the Cloud

ACT! Server Network Multi-User SyncOne of the key reasons why businesses rush to the Cloud is to enable users to access content from anywhere there is an Internet connection.  This is beneficial when users are highly mobile or there are multiple work and office locations.  The drawback is that without an Internet connection, work and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) come to a complete halt.

If you do have multiple people in your office that need to collaborate and share a centralized, institutional customer relationship system, ACT! Premium 2013 can be installed on your own company server and shared with everyone in your Office.  In fact, even if you have users who work from home or in another State, as long as they periodically have access to the Internet, all of the information in the master company version of ACT! Premium 2013 can be synchronized with the remote user (any user who is off-site and not in the Office) so that everyone always has the most current information about a contact.

For users in the Office, any updates to a Contact record are immediate and in real time.  ACT! Premium 2013 supports field level locking so if two different users are in the same contact record, only one user will be able to edit a field (like the phone number) at a time.  All users can make updates regardless of if they are in or out of the Office.   ACT! Premium 2013 will review all of the changes by each user and make sure the latest ones are kept.

[Note:  A certain amount of common sense is required here.  Two different users can update “notes” on the same contact and both sets of updates will be kept.  However, if two users change the “office phone number” in the same contact record, the change completed at the latest time will be the one reflected.   For example, if a user in the Office changes the phone number of a contact at 1pm, and then another user who is out of the Office and working off-site (perhaps at a client) changes the phone number in that same contact record at 1:15pm, the latest change, the one at 1:15pm will be the phone number in that contact record.  The earlier change at 1pm will be overwritten.]

The key advantage of ACT! Premium 2013 as a Customer Relationship Management solution is that it enables you to remain 100% productive regardless of if you in the office and connected to your company server or if you are on the road and working from the beach between meetings.   Whenever Internet access is available, ACT! Premium 2013 will automatically synchronize updates between your Mobile Warriors and the Office.

In real life, “Clouds” come and go. With ACT! Premium 2013, it is always a clear Blue Sky.

For more information on ACT! Premium 2013, leave me a comment or visit:
http://act.com/products/act-premium/

Act! Chronicles – Keeping your Contacts out of the Cloud

Sage ACT Premium 2013 BoxAre you frustrated with Cloud based contact management solutions that are only accessible when you have Internet Access?  Are you concerned that one day you will receive an apologetic notice from your Cloud Hosted Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Address Book Vendor telling you that your password and some amount of personal information may have been compromised which would mean that all of your client data and notes are now potentially “out there?”

Do you wish there were some Application you could run locally on your computer so that your contact address book information would be available at all times – even when you had no access to the Internet?  An Application that would allow you to maintain not just a contact’s basic address information, phone, and email but also maintain a complete history of all communication with that contact?  What about if it could keep track of the status of the sales cycle and show all of the other related contacts?  How about if you could collaborate and share Contact information across your company so that everyone had the same “Institutional Knowledge” about a Client?

Let me introduce you to ACT! Premium 2013 by Swiftpage, a Windows Application that enables you to do all of the above and so much more.  (Note: If you are a Mac user, keep reading about the features. A future article will discuss how to run ACT! Premium on a Mac in a Virtual Windows Machine using Parallels Desktop.)

ACT! Premium 2013 is a full featured, contact and customer relationship manager (CRM) that supports pipeline selling, full history of communication, tasks, notes, history, appointments, calendar scheduling, contact status, mail merge, reporting and social media.

What makes ACT! Premium different from SalesForce and SugarCRM, (the two most popular Cloud based CRM platforms), is that unlike Cloud based services, your contacts are 100% safe and secure on your on PC or your own company file server and accessible with or without Internet Access.

That means the next time you have a five hour plane trip from NY to LA, you can be actively working on your sales and marketing efforts by reviewing the current status of your proposals, projects, and campaigns.  You can draft letters, create email messages and mail-merge personalized email or letter campaigns, schedule meetings, tasks, analyze reports and look for cross-sell opportunities.  All of this and more simply because ACT! Premium 2013 is installed locally, on your notebook (or PC) and accessible regardless of the availability of an Internet connection.

Put the “personal” back in “personal computing” and say, “Goodbye Cloud” and Hello to the personal computer completely under your control.

For more information on ACT! Premium 2013, leave me a comment or visit:
http://act.com/products/act-premium/

Note:  ACT! is available in a Pro version but to get the full benefits that I will be discussing in my “ACT! Chronicles” Series, the Premium version is required particularly for the Web and Mobile features.  The Pro version may be appropriate if you will be the only user and do not have a need to share your contacts with anyone else or access your contacts from the Web or a Mobile Device.  This would be true if you always carry your notebook computer with you wherever you go.

WordPress – Claim Google Authorship for your Content

Google AuthorshipGoogle recently introduced a new way to identify, validate, and rank content called “Authorship.”  This is accomplished by linking your Google+ Profile, which should contain a head shot picture, to the content (article posts) on your WordPress site.

By claiming ownership of your content, it enables Google to know that the article was presumably written by a real human being, you, as it is linked to a Google+ Profile.  When your article appears in the Google search results, a picture of you will be displayed next to the search results.

Google Authorship-Jason Palmer Demo 130731

The coolest things about the new Authorship search result are the two links: “by Jason Palmer” and “More by Jason Palmer.”  When you click on the “by Jason Palmer”, you will see my Google+ Profile page.  When you click on the “More by Jason Palmer”, you get a mini-Google Search engine of all my content which enables readers to find other articles that I have written.

Google has not yet fully disclosed exactly how the new Authorship link will improve your content position.  One could assume that authenticated content will rank higher because it is from a real person instead of an anonymous source that could have simply plagiarized or copied it and republished it with erroneous attribution.

Another great benefit is that if you use Google Analytics, you will get additional activity statistics on your Google Authorship enabled content.

If you have the Genesis Framework, implementing Google Authorship can be accomplished in three easy steps:  Find your Google+ Profile URL; Enter it in the Google+ box on your user profile page in WordPress; Add your site to your “Contribute To” section in your Google+ Profile.  Rather than duplicate other great content, see this article at CopyBlogger.com “Claim Google Authorship for Your WordPress Website in 3 Easy Steps” for screen shots and an extended narrative on how to do it.

If you are not using the Genesis Framework, you can use a generic “Google Authorship” WordPress plugin to accomplish the same task.

Two of the more popular “Google Authorship”  WordPress Plugin options are:
Google+ Authorship WordPress Plugin by WP-Buddy.com (Pro Version $8)
and
AuthorSure WordPress Plugin by Authorsure.com

Once you have this setup, you can test what your article search results will look like with the “Google Structured Data Testing Tool” available in the Google Webmaster Tools site.

If you are still not convinced of the value, again from CopyBlogger.com, here is another great article entitled, “10 Reasons Writers Should Claim Their Google Authorship Markup