Thursday, April 2, 2015

5 Key Features of 2015 Best of the Web Winners

How does your site measure up versus the best of the web?

Each year Rochester Business Journal publishes it's Best of the Web awards - for top performing and designed sites in the Rochester area.  They publish a summary of all the nominees and give some detail into what went into these sites. In this article I will look at some of the objective results from those statistics.

I hear all the time from customers "I want my website to be the best", or "I want it ranked at the top of the search engines" or "I want tons of hits".  But how do you know if your site measures up? What are reasonable results for your efforts?  What should you expect to spend to get those results?

One way to look at it is to base your evaluation and investment on what the best in the industry have done.  So let's examine some results we can glean from the Best of the Web article in 2015.

Let's start with average age since last overhaul.  Best of the web nominees ranged from 6.25 to .17 years age since last overhaul - but here's the kicker - the overall average for all nominees was just 1.15 years. That's right - the very best were overhauling their sites pretty frequently.  There are great reasons for this - chief among them is that web technology changes frequently.  New browsers and platforms are released yearly or even monthly.  Sites have to adapt to different screen sizes and experiences as mobile makes a huge inroad. The most frequently cited overhaul reason was to adapt to a responsive design that would work on either a phone, a tablet or a desktop.  That's one example of a changing environment but we can find so many more, from new web technologies to offering more sophisticated interactive experiences.  The lesson learned here is that building a website is an ongoing process - not a one time project.

The next statistic we'll look at is number of hits per month. The site with the least number of hits was 150 per month, and the site with the most was over 2.5 million.  Obviously this means that the overall number can vary widely, but the average among all the sites (barring the one outlier of 2.5 million) was well over 77,000 hits per month.  If we put the outlier back in it's over 150k.  In any case it means that sites that performed well were achieving numbers well over 50,000 hits per month.

So what about initial development cost?  How much should you invest if you want to build a best of the web nominated site.  Again, there was a wide range of costs from $2,500 to $80,000.  Many of the larger sites didn't publish cost to produce - frequently because their site was developed internally and they didn't track it. For those site though they frequently listed staffing levels of well over 10 people to build the site and maintain it.  The average cost for those reporting for initial development was $25,128.  The way websites are developed, and the way companies think about their costs, this may be less than accurate.  The reason is they frequently think of their own resources as "free", where in fact they do have a cost, and more importantly they're probably thinking only of the last overhaul, rather than the total cost of ownership (TCO) of all website development to date. But let's say that this is representative of major website project costs - even if not TCO.  How's your budget for web development?  Close to that?  If not you may not be getting what you want.

Next comes ongoing maintenance costs.  Good websites are constantly updated and  maintained, the minimum cost was zero (I find that hard to believe - they probably have internal staff maintaining the site and aren't counting those costs) and $50,000.  That's right - some of the large sites pay as much as $50,000 per year to maintain their site!  The average expenditure per year for those reporting was around $7800.  What is your annual maintenance budget?  Do you have that price range in mind when determining what your website spend will be?

Let's finally look at staffing.  The number of people working on the sites ranged from 1 to over 20 in the case of the site with 2.5M hits per month.  The average staff that oversaw site maintenance and development was 4. Now they may not all be full time - but most sites listed out who did what and there was significant work being put in. I'd hazard a guess and say that these labor costs weren't factored into the site costs, based on comments in the website descriptions.  So in addition to the above paid maintenance costs, many of the best of the web sites had additional internal labor costs to maintain. And if they're employing that many people to maintain the site, you can bet that they're constantly updating and keeping the site relevant.

Some keyword analysis from the judges comments show these words trickling to the top, indicating their importance in the overall rankings of the sites. I'll exclude words like "site" that don't really indicate anything about the value they were looking for:
  • Design (50 times), usually associated with the word "clean".  They are looking for uncluttered, easy to navigate and pleasing page design.
  • Content (40 times), in the end a website's value is determined not by how pretty it is - but by the relevancy, usefulness and indexing of the content itself.  Content is king.
  • Social (34 times), How well the sites were integrated with and reflected their social media use and branding was highly important to sites.
  • Easy (32 times), Usually associated with the word "Navigation".  How easy is it to get around the site, find the content you're looking for.
  • Home (30 times) - referring to an attractive and inviting home page design
  • Mobile (30 times), Responsive design and a nice look and feel on all platforms was an important consideration. With over 30% of traffic now generated by mobile devices this is key.
  • Other important keywords included Link (31 times), Media (27 times), Responsive (22 times), Slideshow (17 times), Scroll (17 times).  These all indicate key features the judges thought were important enough to mention in the comments.

Some info on the statistics themselves. There were 37 sites reporting, only 35 gave counts on hits per month, 24 gave initial development cost numbers, 28 gave maintenance cost numbers.  The rest of the statistics were completely filled in by the 37 respondents.

So let's develop a quick checklist:
  1. When was the last time you overhauled your site?  If it was over 2 years score a -1 if under two years score a 1
  2. How many hits per month are you getting?  If over 50,000 score a 1 if under score -1
  3. What did you spend to develop your site initially (or in the last overhaul)? If your budget was over $25,000 give yourself a 1, otherwise -1
  4. What is your budget for maintenance costs per year?  If over $7500 give yourself a 1 otherwise a -1.
  5. How many people within your company help maintain the site?  If over 3 give yourself a 1 otherwise a -1.
  6. Is your site responsive - does it operate well on a phone?  If yes, give yourself a 1, otherwise a -1. 
  7. Do you have a well executed and integrated social media plan that is reflected in your site design? Give yourself a 1 if you do, -1 if you do not.
How did you score? Positive or negative?  If you scored negative and you are dissatisfied with your site's results and performance, you can identify where you may have gaps based on the negative scores you achieved.  If you want a full evaluation of your site and a more complete analysis of performance vs benchmarks, contact for more information.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Microsoft Multi-Authentication Has Improved

And you should be activating it

As more of our life goes online, we expose ourselves to more and more risk of compromised accounts. More people are placing their eggs in a basket in the cloud in hopes of better disaster recovery and better accessibility. As a result information that we once would have kept only on our own PC is now becoming accessible to anyone if they get the "keys to the kingdom" - our password.

Microsoft's multi-authentication (hereafter referred to as Multi-Auth) is designed to make this a less likely occurrence. The idea is that you set your account up so that in order to access the account via the web, or an application - the sign-on has to be approved by you on a separate device. Once you sign on once - the approval can be remembered - or you can tell it to forget that approval and once you sign off a new approval needs to be generated to let someone back in. This allows you to more safely access your account from a variety of places.

In order to do this you need one of the following secondary authentication methods:
  • A smartphone with a multi-auth application on it
  • A phone of any kind that can accept text messages
By far the easiest is the Multi-Auth app. Microsoft has a different solution for multi-auth on private live accounts (like for Hotmail and Xbox) and for business accounts (like Office365 and Azure). While there are two different apps - they work the same. You can set them up in 2 modes - in one mode you simply need to approve access by hitting Verify. When you go to login a code will display on the screen that should match the code in the verification. The other mode displays a constantly changing number (every minute or so a new number is generated). You type the multi-auth code into the browser when logging in. I prefer the "verify" method because it actually messages my phone if someone tries to login to my account. I like getting this notification and I like not having to type extra characters. The other method is marginally more secure.

If you don't have a smartphone or you don't want to install the app, you can instead have Microsoft text you a message with a code you'll need to type into the browser to log in.
In order to use Multi-Auth, my recommendation is that you take a further step - make sure your phone is loaded with activated software that lets you wipe it remotely. That way if someone gets ahold of your phone and figures out your lock screen password you can still wipe the phone and prevent access to your account. Be sure that you also have a "back door" to allow you into your account if your phone is lost. In most cases when you turn on multi-auth the system will provide you with a secondary password to access your account. Make sure to save that in a safe place.
Now multi-auth does have it's drawbacks. Some apps won't support it. In the "Live" version of multi-auth (the one used with OneDrive, Xbox, and Hotmail) xbox365, Microsoft's online account settings, and other capabilities don't support multi-auth (though that number is shrinking as things are re-factored). So you have to create a one-time password to be used just with that app. Generally this will be a long string of characters which you type in instead of your normal password. You can deactivate one-time passwords individually, thus if somehow one of your accounts is compromised, the device is stolen, or you just don't need it any more you can deactivate that one time password. This involves extra steps - you need to go to your account on a web page, generate the (usually long) one time password, then type it into the add-on app or device. The question is though - would you rather go through a little extra work on initial setup? Or would you rather deal with the potentially bad consequences of someone compromising your password?

It's also not perfect. In recent months it's gotten better, but in some cases on some apps I've had to re-generate and re-enter one-time passwords (you can't look them up again once you've generated them, unless you keep them in a document offline - which I do not recommend). When moving from one phone to another you have to re-connect to a new version of the multi-auth app (a pain but only takes a few minutes of setup time).
Many other mail and authentication systems are going to multi-auth including gmail and even the
king of being compromised - yahoo. My recommendation is to investigate multi-auth and if you feel comfortable with the steps involved consider activating it on all critical accounts that are linked to cloud mail or files.

Friday, November 21, 2014

More changes in features and licensing for Office365 - November Update

Microsoft has been aggressively pushing along new updated to Office365 features - all free - to help it compete against Google and other offerings.  In addition to the license changes in my last article, here are some of the recently announced or released changes:
  • Unlimited storage  (Currently 1TB) planned for OneDrive personal and OneDrive for business - soon you will have no limits on how much you can store in your OneDrive in the cloud. This is interesting and potentially useful and valuable.
  • Video Channels - To go with unlimited cloud storage, Microsoft has also announced a platform for creating video channels in the cloud to share with your organization (and one assumes eventually with the public).  Again interesting because it means that organizations can create video channels for training, information sharing etc.
  • Groups - Microsoft is aggressively integrating their YAMMER social communications platform into Office365.  Users can now create "Groups" of employees that can share a communications platform including persistent chat, files specific to the group, and a calendar. This will I think gradually replace the existing cumbersome SharePoint Sites for most casual group interaction. Think of a group as a shared mailbox, a chat log, a shared calendar and a shared SharePoint document repository - all under a single banner and available from the web.
  • Clutter - Microsoft has rolled out a new mail management tool called "Clutter".  It's available now for early adopters and for everyone soon. Clutter can be turned on or off for a particular user. It creates a clutter folder that learns from your activities. Marking an email as "clutter" in the inbox or dragging and dropping it to the clutter folder in outlook will "train" the clutter algorithm what stuff you still want to see (haven't marked as junk) but "clutters" up your inbox. This is similar to tools from Google that try to categorize incoming mail and from Inbox that tries to hide "junky" looking mail in favor of actual communications.  The tool will learn from your behaviors and what things you consider clutter and apply those algorithms as it goes along.
  • Delve - Delve allows you to search across documents and emails - organization wide - for information (dependent on permissions).   Delve is in it's early stages but eventually could be key to sorting through tremendous amounts of information that are generated in a typical oneDrive/Yammer/Exchange/SharePoint environment.
  • Skype/Lync integration - announced but not yet active Microsoft is going to merge the popular Skype program (and it's ability to make VOIP calls to other Skype users and even to normal cell and POTS telephones) with Lync (a free messaging app included in office365) to provide a more integrated universal messaging platform.  Hopefully they will take the best of both worlds and improve them - merging Skype's ubiquitous and easy to use client with Lync's excellent web conferencing and presentation capabilities and integrate them all into the new Skype for Business.
All of these improvements are FREE and added automatically to your system - they are either there already and just need to be activated or - if you turn on "early adopter" mode will be there.  OS-Cubed is a Silver Cloud Partner in the Microsoft Cloud partner program with several hundred mailboxes under management and dozens of implementations and migrations under their belt. If you're interested in what it would take to migrate to office365, contact us!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Microsoft significantly changes Office365 licensing

Microsoft, as Microsoft is want to do, has again changed the rules for Office365 licensing

This has ramifications for both existing and new clients

In a move that has both advantages and disadvantages for consumers of Office365 products, Microsoft has shuffled the licensing for Office365 significantly, introducing a new product mix, and changing the way existing product mixes work. This has ramifications for both new and existing customers so best to be sure you understand it.

First the good

Increased max count

In the old office365 world there were small business licenses up to 25 users, and midsize business up to 150.  These numbers have fluctuated and changed over time and the result has been very confusing.  They have done away with this distinction now.  All businesses up to 300 licenses can purchase the small business line of products. This makes it much easier for a company to carefully craft a set of licenses that meets their needs, and opens up the market for the less expensive licenses for many midsize businesses who could not utilize them in the past due to cost constraints of the more expensive midsize and enterprise business license.

Mixing and matching

In the old Office365 world you could not mix and match small business, midsize business and enterprise licenses.  This caused untold consternation when you exceeded the max licensing, or needed a product for one or two clients out of your install with more advanced features. This is no longer the case - you can now mix and match both small/midsize business and enterprise licenses. They have removed the Small/Midsize division and made ONE product line called "Small Business" and ONE product line called "Enterprise".   Companies cannot own more than 300 instances of a Small Business license, Enterprise licenses are unlimited in the number you can buy.  So you can now mix and match and choose products from any of the business lines as needed, as long as you don't exceed the max license limit in any one line.  This is a real bonus as they have also changed the way offline office works so that in some cases you may be required to purchase enterprise licenses now.

License office without email

Some businesses wanted the ability to license MS office on an ongoing basis without paying for an email box. They might already have an internal email server, or are using a different product for email.  You can now - through office365 acquire an office license without online storage or email accounts.  This allows companies doing mass deployments of office upgrades, or those that don't need email to take advantage of licensing office through the cloud.  Remember that each of these licenses allows 5 installs!

More office options

In the old world you either got offline office, or you didn't and if you did get it you got the whole shebang - the full office professional with all the bells and whistles. This was different from their normal process of selling office in that they had tiered the product - with a lower end offering that didn't include Access and InfoPath, and a higher end offering that included these products. The good news is that they now offer an office small business and an office enterprise - distinguishing these products from each other. The bad news I will cover in the next section.

1TB of storage in the cloud

Microsoft now offers ALL office365 email users 1TB of offline storage. That's 1000GB of storage in the cloud PER MAILBOX. That's an unprecedented amount of space, which any user uses. At the $5/month $60/year level you can't even buy that much storage from Amazon Web Services or Azure for a year - without the mailbox.  It's a bold move and one that may spell (for professional use) the end of products like Dropbox.

Buy Office365 from a reseller and use a PO rather than a credit card

You can now buy all but the Kiosk licenses (see below) from a reseller as an open office license. These licenses get applied to your online account, and must be re-purchased each year from your reseller - unlike the credit card accounts they will not renew automatically.  Resellers must be Microsoft Cloud Authorized resellers (Like OS-Cubed, Inc.).

The Bad News

Microsoft has made full office more expensive

If you need all office has to offer (including Microsoft Access) you have no choice now but to buy the full enterprise office at $20/month. They have replace the $12.50/month slot with the small business office which does not include MS Access. Now a lot of clients don't need Access so their price won't change they will just lose the ability to run Access on their machines. But for small business or midsize business clients who do need MS Access on their workstations they are looking at a rather hefty $7.50/month additional charge per set of 5 licenses to use this ability.  This amounts to an additional $90/year to get ONE new office app.  For many clients this is no big deal, but for those that use Access it could get quite expensive. If you had the full 25 Office365 pro plus licenses and need them all to have Access you're talking an extra $2250/year.  That's not chump change for a small business.  Note however that even at $240/year it's still an incredible deal.  You are getting full blown Microsoft Office with 5 licenses to install for the price of less than one over-the-counter license.  You are in addition getting the full-blown all access Microsoft sharepoint, 1TB of storage, yammer, lync, etc.  This is still an awesome deal. It's just too bad that they decided to screw the high end of existing small business subscribers to set it up this way.

Microsoft is not honoring their initial commitment to clients

Once your current subscription runs out - you won't be able to just renew it and continue to enjoy it's benefits.  You will have to purchase one of the new licenses and either suffer a downgrade of office without Access or pay more to get an enterprise pro license.  This sucks.  I think Microsoft should have continued to honor their initial sales of office365 pro to small and midsize businesses as long as they continued to use them.  If they want to buy NEW licenses - sure put them in the new pricing scheme. Why does this suck (beyond the obvious additional expense)?  Office365 was sold with the express idea that it would give you a predictable monthly outlay for your needs.  And then they went and removed that benefit by changing the pricing.  If they can just change (upwards) the pricing any time they want - how is that predictable? How are companies to trust them that they won't increase prices again?  I think this was a very bad move on Microsoft's part. We'll see if outcry from customers as their contracts come up for renewal pushes them to modify this policy.  The bad taste left in people's mouths from having to pay more feels a lot like a bait and switch technique.  One even wonders if attorney generals might end up getting involved.

The breakdown:

Here is the new (simplified) table of options available from Microsoft

Office small business (limited to up to 300 users):

Business essentials (no offline office, 50GB mailbox, 1TB storage, online office): $5/month
Office365 business (No mailbox, 1TB of offline storage, Office small business (no Access), no lync): $8.25/month
Business premium (50GB mailbox, 1TB offline storage, Office small business (no Access): $12.50/month

Office Enterprise (unlimited users):

Office Kiosk K1: 2GB mailbox, no offline storage, no access to sharepoint: $2/month
Office Kiosk K2: 2GB mailbox, No offline storage, Access to sharepoint, access to office online: $4/month
Office Enterprise E1: (No offline office, 1TB Storage, sharepoint, Lync, etc): $8/month
Office Enterprise ProPlus: (No mailbox, Office pro subscription with access, no offline storage, no access to sharepoint, no lync) $12/month
Office Enterprise E3: (Full office pro, 50GB mailbox, 1tb storage, access to sharepoint, lync,
yammer): $20/month

When will this affect me?

If you are a current subscriber and your yearly renewal is after October 1, 2015 you will be forced to renew under the new licensing.  Any renewals in this next year will include your old licensing. If you renew after that date you will be forced into the new licensing. If you are a small business expiring just after that date and Microsoft Access is important to your business you may wish to look into renewing early so you get another year out of the license.

If you are a new subscriber you can no longer get the old licensing plans.  You must choose one of these options. 


As you can see if you need offline Access expect to pay $20/month after your current subscription expires.  I haven't explored it yet, but it's possible if you're a small business you could buy a $5 business essentials account (for up to 300 users) and a $12 Office pro plus account (remember you get 5 installs per account) and get similar functionality for $17/month.  The only downside would be missing some esoteric and infrequently used functions such as voicemail integration, forensics and other high end exchange functions. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why is Hewlett Packard already lying to partners?

Hewlett Packard has announced it is splitting it's enterprise/server division off from it's consumer products division.  In this statement from Meg Whitman she claims that it will be business as usual for partners, and that nothing changes.  Unfortunately this is totally a lie.  Within days of announcing the split they also announced the fact that they were creating a set of new requirements to sell ANY HP Printer toner or ink supplies.  Partners now have to sell at least $100,000 a year in HP product to qualify to sell ink or toner supplies.  Small partners like OS-Cubed, Inc. don't do that kind of volume.  So despite a 3 company, 30 year relationship with HP and Compaq for all their products we will no longer be selling or recommending HP printers to our clients.  We won't even be able to buy supplies for the printer we own through our distributor.

Why are they doing this?  The only answer can be to drive up the cost of printer and toner to consumers.  By narrowing the competitive field for supply resale they can more closely control margins and sale prices.  By driving people to big-box stores they can push deeper discounts on the printers (many large stores sell them at a loss) because they know that their customers won't go buy the supplies at another location.

I of course can still sell the printers themselves.  But the margin on those is miniscule because, as I said big box stores sell them at a loss and make up the loss in supply sales.

I cannot fathom why HP is doing this, but it really makes me worried. I like HP, and always have. We EXCLUSIVELY sell their PCs, Laptops and Servers  and . And yet... will they now squeeze me out of sales of those products too because I'm not a high volume purchaser?  Will I be forced to find other vendors? This first move is not promising.  It's not promising for consumers either because let's face it - big box stores just don't offer the service and expertise that a small reseller can provide.

In the next 12 months we will see.  HP absorbed Compaq and there were some pretty serious disruptions when this occurred. I almost cancelled my 15 year relationship with them then, and had to escalate some issues to the vice-presidential level at HP to get them resolved. I will be watching closely and evaluating competing products, vendors and providers over the next few months.  If I see more restrictions or volume requirements on HPs part I will be (sadly) looking to change vendors. This can only hurt HP because small dealers with a lot of expertise like ours are what keep them in front of SMB clients. These clients trust us to recommend a product they can depend on - and to depend on the product we need to be able to depend on our provider - depend on them not to jerk the rug out from under us after we've been selling their product for them for 30 years.


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