Do You Need an iPad for Your Small Business?

Aside from a few niches, including publishing, Apple hasn’t been a huge player in the business market. For the past 20 years or so, small businesses have mostly chosen Windows-based PCs over Macs -- and Macs are, after all, more expensive.

Although it’s unlikely that any major changes are in store, Apple has opened a new front in the small-business market with the iPad. While many competing players head for the tablet-PC market, the iPad is the dominant player -- with a user base of 17 million.

The iPad in Small Business: Benefit
At least some of those users are small-business customers. In keeping with trends of recent years, though, end users in your organization and other small businesses are more likely to employ their iPad for both business and home use. With its keyboard-less form, the iPad isn’t likely to replace an office desktop PC; more likely, it will augment your end users’ desktop PC and fill a role somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop.

Nevertheless, the iPad has its advantages in a business setting. Consider these:

  • It helps you go green. Since the devices are meant to be toted around and shared, you can eliminate paper memos, notes and the like. Your business can cut paper costs and add green-initiative bonus points.
  • It offers flexibility. The nimbleness of the iPad creates possibilities for depth in presentations, particularly away from an office setting. It can perform tasks that might have been clunky with a standard laptop, like monitoring core business functions on the go and giving sales presentations. “If going out to, say, show or discuss a property with a potential client or show some photos, it seems like a great way to enrich the interaction,” says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif.
  • It saves you IT time. The iPad’s accessibility can save IT hours, as you’d now need to spend less time assisting less tech-savvy end users. The iPad can be employed for targeted tasks by workers who might not ordinarily use a laptop or PC, such as warehouse employees managing inventory.
  • It increases productivity. There may also be an unintended advantage to bringing the iPad into a small business environment: Because the device currently only runs one app at a time, it makes multitasking much harder, which, statistics show, could actually improve workers’ output.

That’s right: In addition to saving paper and dazzling potential clients, the iPad may make employees in your organization more productive.

The iPad in Small Business: Security Risks
That said, the iPad, like most mobile devices, presents a bit of risk in a business environment. “The fundamental issue with the iPad is if you’re storing data on it, the system itself is fairly weak at keeping data secure,” says Jack E. Gold, president and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

Nevertheless, Gold says that security risks for the iPad are relatively minimal. There is always the danger of losing a mobile device, and there’s the remote possibility users could download viruses through applications. You can take a number of steps to secure data on the iPad, including:

  • Require pass-code usage. Too often, mobile device users never bother to use a pass code. Apple lets you set strict pass-code policies.
  • Use the remote wipe command. This ensures that after a number of failed pass-code attempts, the access key to the device’s data is wiped.
  • Restrict use. You can prohibit end users from visiting certain sites such as YouTube or from installing apps through the iTunes store.
  • Keep up with updates. Make sure you install updates from Apple as the company patches vulnerabilities.

For most IT departments, it’s not a matter of whether you’ll support iPad use. It’s a matter of meeting the demand of end users who want to use it for business purposes. It’s up to IT to make sure that use doesn’t compromise security.

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iPad appears courtesy of Apple

The Drive for Real-time Collaboration

It's becoming a familiar scene in companies of all sizes: A team works closely together, jumping from instant messages to video conferences to over-the-phone meetings. They collaborate and accomplish goals side-by-side every day -- without ever actually meeting face-to-face.

Real-time collaboration tools not only connect teams more effectively, but also provide considerable cost savings to your organization. As a result, IT managers are increasingly recognizing the need for real-time collaboration among team members -- no matter their location. "The value of collaborating is about community. You have to be where people are to make it work," says Jon Arnold, an analyst and principal of J Arnold & Associates.

According to Ted Schadler of Forrester Research Inc., what’s driving the need is the growing trend of distributed organizations, the rising number of remote workers, and the upsurge of business-to-business teams. Here's what experts say you need to know about real-time collaboration tools and best practices for implementation:

1. Know the real-time collaboration tool landscape.
When it comes to real-time collaboration tools, the theme is "synchronous." Tools need to allow teams to truly communicate in real time. Among the real-time technologies becoming mainstays in many organizations are:

  • Advanced messaging. IM has grown beyond chat. Now, employees can send each other files without size limits, switch into video chatting or create a live conference with multiple co-workers on the spot

  • Smartphones. Employees can now stay seamlessly connected to their team via email, texting, document sharing and calls -- all on their smartphones

  • Screen sharing. These tools allow teams to actually see each other’s desktops at the same time. Some services even let you take control of someone else’s desktop, making it easy to work on projects at the same time, on the same screen

  • Virtual whiteboarding. The entire group can share a common sketchpad, easy for sharing ideas and files on a blank canvas

  • Telepresence or Web conferencing. Emerging telepresence tools create the illusion of teams interacting in the same room, even when they are miles apart. Webcams that enable one-on-one video conferencing also fall into this category. Many programs now offer recording features too, which are useful to play back later to note explicit directions and follow up with others

2. Know how tools solve common problems.
All teams don't need all real-time communication tools. And each communication tool does not need to have all the above features. The key is to offer and support the right mix that increases productivity (and ideally lowers costs) without creating distractions. "Look at key processes that can be improved by real-time collaboration," says Smith. "Maybe it's customer service -- like you can speed up the time it takes to answer clients.”

3. Know who is driving virtual collaboration.
Forrester recommends taking stock of so-called "alpha collaborators," or employees who are already using collaboration tools. “They are your greatest resource for identifying new tools, driving adoption and testing new scenarios," reports Forrester.

For employees, the expectations for real-time collaboration tools will only continue to expand. “People are living with these tools in their personal life,” says Arnold. “And they are bringing those expectations to the workplace."

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/alexsl

Is NFC Technology the Next Big Thing for Business?

IT professionals, get ready for yet another acronym you’ll need to learn, implement and secure: NFC.

Near-field communication, while not new, is becoming a hot buzzword among tech-savvy consumers and businesses alike. This short-range wireless radio technology can turn a smartphone into a digital wallet, but that’s just one of many potential uses.

Some industry experts predict NFC will be the next big thing. And if it is, you might be the one who has to ensure your company is securely integrating the technology.

What Exactly Is NFC?

Here’s a scenario in the not-too-distant future: A customer walks into your store and swipes his smartphone near the cash register’s terminal to complete a transaction. Then, on a nearby bus shelter, he swipes his smartphone against a movie poster to download the trailer to the upcoming film. Later, he sees a friend on the street, and she tells him about her new job. The two swipe smartphones to exchange up-to-date contact info.

This is the promise of NFC, and with major smartphone platforms like BlackBerry, Android and iPhone onboard, it could soon be a quick and convenient way for your customers to buy goods and services. Note: Apple hasn’t officially confirmed iPhone 5 will have NFCs, but analysts say it’s more than likely.

When Will NFC Go Mainstream?

Many experts agree that NFC is an exciting alternative to QR codes, but a few obstacles must be overcome before the technology can be deployed by the mainstream.

“NFC is the one Holy Grail-like technology most likely to make the long-held promise of the electronic wallet a reality,” says Carmi Levy an independent technology analyst based in London, Ontario. “Companies in all sectors, including retailers, financial services organizations and mobile carriers, are all salivating at the prospect of NFC-enabled smartphones that make paying for something as quick and easy as sending a text message.”

Tim Bajarin, president of the Creative Strategies Inc. tech consultancy in Campbell, Calif., agrees that NFC has a lot of positive buzz -- especially among businesses. “There are a lot of uses for NFC -- from getting you into doors at the office, which has been around for many years, to commerce, where things really get interesting.”

NFC Brings New Security Concerns

As with all new forms of wireless connectivity, security is NFC’s Achilles’ heel, says Levy.

“Any time vendors add new ways to seamlessly move data on and off of a mobile device, it’s only a matter of time before hackers and criminals figure out a way to exploit that new capability,” he cautions. “The fact that NFC will be a staple of the next generation of smartphones makes it an even more likely security target.”

NFC’s saving grace might be its relatively short range. The technology works within about 8 inches, so it will be more difficult for criminals to position attacks, explains Levy.

Security isn’t the only challenge that has prevented NFC’s rapid adoption so far. Levy and Bajarin both make mention that the technology lacks a unified standard.

Integrating NFC

If your business works in retail, you certainly don’t want to be behind the curve when it comes to NFC. Now is the time to educate yourself about potential options. It’s smart to talk to your existing transaction terminal vendor, advises Bajarin.


“I’d start by asking your existing credit or debit terminal vendor if they support NFC, and if so, what standards are they backing and what banks are they working with,” says Bajarin.

But even if your business isn’t a retail operation, you’ll have to think about NFC. Because NFC doesn’t require a PIN code, you’ll need to educate employees about the need to immediately freeze financial accounts if a smartphone is lost or stolen. And you’ll need to have a game plan to remotely wipe devices in the case of vulnerable data.

And as with most emerging technologies, you’re better off planning while NFC is the next big thing, rather than scrambling when demand hits.

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Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/lenta

Instruction 101, Part I: Get Your Message Across

It’s a moment many geeks dread. At some point in your career, it’s likely you’ll have to teach your peers -- or worse, your non-technical co-workers or customers -- about a new technology.

Doing so can be a real boost to your career, not only because it gives you great visibility within your organization -- and sometimes beyond it -- but also because it will help you increase your expertise. “You never truly master something until you teach it to someone else,” says Jeremiah Dunham, president of the IT support company Design-PT and an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.

Teaching is daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. Here are four keys to making sure you come across like a pro:

1. Know your audience. Find out who’s likely to be there, and most important, what they’ll want to learn from you. This is especially vital when teaching a non-technical audience about technology. You may love the new technology or product for its elegant design and functionality, but that’s unlikely to matter to a lay audience that will only want to know how the product can help them do their jobs more easily, increase revenues or save the company money. They may also be worried that newer, more efficient technology will result in layoffs, so make sure you’re sensitive to those concerns.

2. Set the stage. Finding the right location for your teaching session can be tricky. You want a setting where you won’t be interrupted or distracted by nearby noise. “A lab type of environment, where everyone has their own computer, is the most effective setting if you’re teaching a new piece of software,” notes Dunham.

Always visit the room beforehand. “If you’re in a new venue, you need to check out every aspect of it: room size, chair arrangement, lighting, acoustics and any technology you’re going to use,” says Mike Scheuermann, associate vice president of Instructional Technology Support at Drexel University. “If you have a glitch because you didn’t prepare, you can undermine your own effectiveness.”

3. Dress the part. Your audience will feel more comfortable with you, and thus be more receptive to what you say, if your attire reflects theirs. In most cases, this means that you, as a geek, will have to look more formal than usual. But the reverse can also be true.

Early in his career, Lawrence Burgee, department chair of Information Systems at Stevenson University had to make a presentation to 500 public utility workers. He arrived dressed for business, as was required in the company’s headquarters offices, where he worked. But the utility workers, who spent their time out in the field, were wearing jeans and T-shirts. “As I walked through the door, I heard one audience member tell his neighbor, ‘Here comes another suit!’” Burgee recalls. “I set the wrong tone by dressing wrong.”

4. Plan to record. “We encourage everyone we deal with to at least consider recording their presentations,” says Scheuermann. “It provides a great benefit for audience members to be able to go over the material again, whether or not they attended the session face-to-face. There are vast numbers of technologies that let you record with different feature sets, and the less expensive ones can be just as effective. It’s a best practice to always make a recording.”

Mastering these steps should give you as much confidence in your presentation skills as you have in your tech know-how.

Coming next month: “Instruction 101, Part II: Keep Your Audience Engaged.”

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Google Chrome OS Notebook: A Security Game Changer?

Google’s much-hyped Chrome OS notebook is just a few months away, promising to deliver a lean, minimalist approach to mobile computing. Fast startup time, long battery life thanks to lower power consumption, and a heavy emphasis on cloud computing add up to plenty of interest from businesses of all sizes.

But will this new operating system mean fewer security headaches for you as an IT professional? Yes and no, say technology experts who are familiar with Chrome OS, scheduled to power mobile computers from the likes of Samsung and Acer by the middle of this year. Here’s what you should consider.

The Google Chrome OS: Effective but Limited
Dino A. Dai Zovi, a New York City-based independent security consultant, says he has been playing around with Google’s Chrome OS notebook prototype, dubbed “Cr-48,” for more than a month. Although he thinks it’s an effective tool for Web communication, it likely won’t be his primary computer.

“I don’t see how you’d want Chrome OS as your main computer, because there isn’t support for popular Web apps, such as Skype, and it’s unclear what native clients will run on Chrome OS,” says Dai Zovi. “But Chrome OS could be useful as a secondary device, as a competitor to, say, tablets.”

Google OS Chrome Security Is Relative
Although Google OS Chrome notebook files are stored in the cloud, Dai Zovi says that doesn’t translate into bulletproof security. “One big limitation for business is no support for encrypted emails -- unless you use a third-party Web-based encryption product,” says Dai Zovi, who has co-authored the books The Art of Software Security Testing and The Mac Hacker’s Handbook.

Consider whether you’re willing to entrust your data to one entity, say the experts. “With Chrome OS, you need to ask yourself if you’re putting too much trust in the hands of Google,” says Bruce Schneier, a security tech consultant and author. “If you’re someone like my mother, who isn’t tech-savvy and is afraid of losing information, sure, you might prefer for someone else to take care of it. But if you’re talking about Citibank corporate accounts, forget it.”

Google’s cloud-based apps provide a uniform standard of security that works great for many people, but Schneier cautions it may not meet your organization’s standards if you need to adhere to policies or regulations. “If you have to ask Google where your data is being stored and if it’s leaving the country, then it’s not for you,” he says.

Weigh the Convenience vs. the Risk of Chrome OS
Your end users are likely to enjoy the convenience of Chrome OS’s cloud-centric approach, says Dai Zovi. After all, you can access files from virtually any online device in the world. You can collaborate and share documents easily, and data is protected from local damage, such as flood or fire or computer theft. However, there may not be adequate layers of protection for your organization’s online data.

“If your data is simply protected by a password and no additional layer of security, that’s simply not enough for many businesses,” says Dai Zovi.

Dai Zovi says Google may be considering expanding its two-step authentication system that is available on Google Apps, where the user receives a text message with a code to type in for access to the application, along with a password. But even a two-step security measure isn’t foolproof, says Dai Zovi, who recalls a recent Firesheep (Firefox extension) vulnerability that led to “sidejacking” attacks among Gmail, Facebook and Twitter users.

As it is, it’s not clear exactly how the system will be embraced. “It’s a new platform, so it’ll take a while to see how this can be a good fit for consumers and businesses,” says Dai Zovi.

Photo: http://www.google.com/chromeos/pilot-program-cr48.html