Friday, May 8, 2015

Are you ready for Office 2016?

Office 2016 will come chock full of new features

You can preview the new version of office here.  Office365 Business premium and professional users get it free! Here's a few new features to whet your whistle:
  • Outlook overhaul - Outlook will look more like it's web-based cousin, in addition one-drive will be integrated more fully. When you send a document you can choose to store it in OneDrive and send a link instead.
  • Real-time editing in Word - like OneNote works now, new content and edits can be applied to a document by multiple people and their changes will show up in real-time - no more locking the document out from editing when you go in.  Other documents like Excel to follow.
  • Data Loss protection features - File level encryption and the ability to support corporate DLP policies allow all Office documents to be less vulnerable to security leaks
  • Click to run features targeted at the enterprise - Administrators will be able to allow employees to install and click-to-run Office on the fly from a central install point behind their firewall, reducing network traffic.
  • Better Clutter Control - exercising the ability for Microsoft to apply big data analysis to your inbox and your activities on email, allows Microsoft to intelligently sort out the wheat from the chaff, putting important emails in your inbox, and stuff that isn't spam but isn't important in a separate clutter folder.
  • Help improvements - They moved the help to the top center of the application and made it easier to access and use.
  • Groups, Collaboration and Skype for business integration - you can now create - in outlook - groups for collaboration, conversation and status sharing and shared files and OneNotes.  this allows you to more logically manage shared storage and better update each other on the status of information in those shared stores.  You can even set up group meetings quickly with Skype for business.
  • Better menu options - some still lament the days when Microsoft removed the menu from the top of our office apps in favor of the ribbon strip. Not everyone finds the ribbon strip intuitive. Well good news! The menu is back. In keeping with the return of the start menu in Windows 10, Office 2016 will feature the return of the menu as a star attraction, with better menu integration, better file browsing to more easily support multiple file sources, and smart menus that adapt as you use the product to present the right context information depending on what you want to do.
  • Sway your audiences - Powerpoint is so old-school, and Microsoft knows it - so while keeping the old powerhouse in the library they're adding a new presentation app called Sway.  Featuring a much more free-form drag and drop presentation authoring process, Sway is like many other "break the borders" presentation platform.
To find out more about Office 2016, or to find out how you can convert your old office licenses into the new cloud based-office licensing model contact me via private message, phone or email at OS-Cubed, Inc.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Don't make the recurring revenue mistake that Microsoft, Symantec and HP are making

Every day lately it seems that partner programs that OS-Cubed and other small IT business vendors participate in are moving to partner program models that emphasize new sales over recurring revenue.  Recently HP, Symantec and Microsoft have all moved their programs over to this model. In an environment where you have one-time license sales this makes a tremendous amount of sense. In an environment with ongoing recurring revenue it's just stupid.


The big companies are reimbursing partners more for a new sale than ongoing ones, trickle off or eliminate the revenue sharing as a recurring revenue relationship ages, or de-level long-term partners who have high client loyalty over partners who have high initial sales.  I will posit here that they are applying the logic that you use for "new packaged license sales" to a recurring revenue model in an inappropriate and in the long term damaging way.  As software developers or entrepreneurs designing your new recurring revenue product - don't make the mistake that these big companies with their old-fashioned views are making.


These big vendors are pushing recurring revenue models as their preferred licensing method - that part of the formula they get. I certainly understand the desire to grow your market.  But understand that the major incentive that small resellers have for getting a recurring revenue stream is the same one you have for selling them - that is that it's constant, steady cash flow.  And cash flow is very important in a reseller environment.  It makes both the selling company and the client more stable and allows them to adjust license quantities and capabilities on-the-fly.  Because of this new model clients have the ability - at any point, on any given month, to "just say no" and switch to another vendor.  Keeping the customer happy, and satisfied at all times is what keeps those customers as customers. They can easily just change providers if they become dissatisfied, with almost zero capital investment on their part.


And who keeps them happy and satisfied? Their reseller in general - not the software vendor with their overseas based technical support, and their inadequate and out of date forum which they provide as a substitute for an actual curated and current wiki or knowledgebase. When your product screws up, the small reseller is the one that makes it so the customer never knows.  They deal with your tech support from India. They navigate your forums and separate the wheat from the chaff.  If a customer had to do that they'd fire you in a second.  Small business resellers are your face to the customer.  The end customer mostly doesn't care if the product they're using is one brand or another - it's the product that the small business IT provider told them was the best, and if that reseller changes their mind they will change in a heartbeat.


So why - in this scenario - would you not do everything you can to both reward the provider for their ongoing support and reselling of your product AND do everything you can to support the ones that do it best - small, personal companies who emphasize long term loyalty over new sales? 


I don't understand this logic, but several companies - Microsoft, Symantec and others have hopped on the bandwagon of "we will reward new sales, but your revenue for the ongoing revenue stream will decline" or worse yet  they take benefits away because despite having a large ongoing revenue stream you're not adding new customers at a breakneck pace. 

In recurring service sales ongoing revenue is everything.  You want to bring customers in and keep them there.  If someone does a new sale, the customer stays for a year and then leaves - you have lost!  Realistically you should be rewarding partners for the longevity of the relationship, not the new sales.  You should increase revenue sharing based on how long term the sale is, rather than punishing partners for not bringing in new clients at a ridiculous rate.  It takes a certain amount of time to make back the expenses of a new sale.  If on the other hand you bring in a new client and they stay for years - that's an overall win, as well as a potential to leverage that relationship for additional products and services in the future. And in the long term it's what will make your product and recurring revenue sale successful.


I am convinced that these short-sighted vendor partner moves are indicative of how successful these companies will be as long term revenue generators and ultimately as SaaS providers.  If you cut out small dealers, and emphasize new sales over overall volume and long term customer satisfaction your recurring revenue stream is destined to go from a flood to a trickle. It's quarterly tactical thinking, not long term strategic thinking. Because customers can easily choose a new provider now with zero capital investment in licensing.  And your vendor may be the one recommending it because you didn't have the vision to continue to reimburse them for recommending and supporting your product.  Recurring revenue sales are NOT the same as one time license sales. The sooner these big companies realize it the better.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Are you a victim of Google's Mobilegeddon?

Google recently released new algorithms for calculating the search rank of sites, and for those sites without a responsive design that accommodates mobile platforms it's had significant impact.  This survey of several top sites indicates that some popular but not very mobile friendly sites have lost as much as 90% of their rank when reevaluated with the new algorithm.  Sites listed has having lost more than 30% of their site rank include popular sites like tested.com, boxofficemojo.com, thinkexist.com and walmartstores.com.  Sites that went up in rank include tvtropes.org, foreignaffairs.com, knowyourmeme.com and many others.   Some sites (like newmexicocriminallaw.com) increased their site ranking by over 4000%!

Note that Google's new algorithm will drop your site ranking even if the person searching for you is on a desktop.  It may drop it even more if they're searching for you on a mobile device.

Many web consumers, and particularly the heaviest web consumers, today have smartphones and tablet devices, and research shows they're now doing an average of 40% of their browsing on those tools.  It only makes sense to have a site that displays attractively on both desktop and mobile platforms.  Fortunately for users of CMSs like DotNetNuke you can simply re-skin your site, and maybe move some content around and get a responsive site up quickly and effectively.  Sites that were once flat with non-mobile friendly menus can be converted quickly and usually inexpensively to sites that look like this.

So bring up YOUR site on your phone or tablet. Is it hard to read and navigate?  Or try Google's mobile friendly test to see how your site fares. Might be time for an update. If so contact us to get a quote. 

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 www.os-cubed.com 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.

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