Monthly Archives: February 2016

Online Security For Small Businesses   

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Introduction

Now that virtually every business involves technology, securing that technology and data is an issue for every small business owner.

Small businesses, those with under 100 employees, face especially tough challenges given their limited resources and lack of full time cyber security teams.

Equally challenging is that many of these businesses are transitioning to the cloud.  Owners may be concerned with their data being secured when no longer kept at their place of business. Cloud providers claim a high level of security, but it may cause the owner sleepless nights of worry.

Here are some ways to improve your online security and keep your small business protected.

Risks with regular internet usage

One of the greatest risks is still the most common issue.  The simple liability that comes with employees or management using the internet for many aspects of their jobs raises a host of issues that must be addressed.

Are your employees trained to recognize phishing emails or other online threats?

Basic web security steps can often be overlooked or neglected in a small business that is focused on surviving in a competitive business landscape.  However, regularly practicing safe online security can help any business weather the issues of online security. In fact, business owners should incorporate online security into their overall business plan, continually revisiting it because one breach can ruin a business or its reputation.

Data encryption and work device boundaries

Stories occasionally crop up where a work computer was misplaced or stolen, putting a huge block of business data at risk.  Often this data is not protected according to company policies.  The company, of course, thought that every employee was following company procedures.

Online security goes beyond just having a proper firewall or employees who can spot phishing, it also transcends into the offline realm.  Your business needs to devise and implement a clear policy on how work devices such as laptops and cell phones should be used outside of the designated workplace.

Proper security measures such as the use of secure VPN login servers and data encryption are crucial to allowing employees the freedom to work remotely, while ensuring the safety of crucial company data.

Random and frequent checks should be conducted on company owned devices to ensure all employees are following the protocols set out for encryption and other security measures.  Establishing your online security plan is not enough, it needs to be implemented and then constantly verified.

Limitations and separation of online access

Just as the reasoning of proper internal controls protect financial assets of the company, so should the access of the internet be controlled.

Consider each employee’s role individually and decide what the minimum access they require to perform their job is.  Maybe an individual does not need to install any new programs because they simply edit the website’s blog posts, negating access to other internet activities.

Perhaps your Human Resources generalist needs access to databases with employee information such as health insurance or 401k contributions but does not need access to the customer sales software you use.

These types of limitations may seem neurotic or a feature of a business who does not trust their employees. However, they are simple and practical steps that can be taken at a low cost to improve the security of data or online business activities without hurting productivity.

What products are right for my business?

At very minimum, most small businesses need a few products.  These include a firewall, of which there are hundreds of options available to a business owner.

Also important is a data backup solution.  If the code of your website is infected and you need to restore the website to a previous state, this information should be stored somewhere different then the primary code.

If your business uses a cloud solution, it would be a good idea to back those files up on another cloud solution or even with a physical solution like an external hard drive.

Depending on your business, encryption software may be essential as well.  If you handle any kind of customer data that is sensitive, encryption is necessary to protect their information safely and securely.

Lastly, becoming more popular is a two-step authentication solution.  This may mean that your employees have to do something other than type in a password to access their work.  The options available include fingerprint technology, receiving a text to their phone, or a wireless token that sends a randomly generated code that must be entered within 30 seconds.  This two-step authentication process prevents a lost or stolen password from allowing non-authorized personnel to have access to data.

Improving Communication Skills For Business Purposes 

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Work on active listening

Most people think they know what listening is—it is the act of hearing someone say something.  But there is a concept called active listening that can help improve your communication skills.

Active listening is based on the idea that when people look like they are listening, most of the time they are really doing something else or listening poorly at best.  What are we doing instead?

Any number of things from preparing our response before the person is even done talking to assuming what someone is going to say then letting our mind drift to other thoughts.

This kind of listening can hurt your communication because you miss key points and subtleties and your resulting answers will not be as powerful and personalized to what the speaker said.

You can improve your active listening by asking questions as the speaker goes along, without being rude of course, or training yourself to use verbal or non verbal queues every few moments to keep yourself focused and let the speaker know you are, truly, listening.

Opt for verbal or in person communication whenever possible

With today’s technology, it can seem silly to ever have a meeting or strategy session in person. The advantage of in person meetings comes down largely to communications.  Virtual meetings can be inefficient as participants are distracted by other things on their computer or in their workplace.  Despite technological advances, there can still be hiccups in the virtual meeting such as poor audio quality or presentation materials not functioning.

Consider the cost of each meeting, especially regarding efficiency, time, and money. Decide if it is feasible to shift more meetings back to in person to improve communication.  These meetings have to be well planned, though, or they can be just as big a time sink as any other type of meeting.

They are buying a relationship, not just a product or service

Amazon is great for buying all sorts of things from bicycles to toasters, but what it can’t provide is personal, knowledgeable customer service and expertise on the items.  Nor can it provide a relationship that will extend forward to future purchases, as much as they try to spam you with personalized recommendation emails.

It is much the same in business.  Many businesses and customers don’t just want to buy a product.  If they did, there are a hundred and one ways they could do that..  When they come to you, whatever your product or service, they are also seeking a relationship.

Remembering this is key to great communication and customer service.  If you forget to take the time to establish and nurture this relationship, that customer may buy whatever you are selling but you can be sure they are not coming back and won’t be recommending you.

Conclusion

Improving your communication is business starts with actively listening to what your customers and other stakeholders are actually saying, not what you think they are going to say.  Only then can you form a accurate and effective response.

Once you have this mastered, your business relationships will flourish and with it many more clients and customers that come to you not only because you have a great product but because they know a great person is standing behind what they are purchasing and that you will be there when they need you.

Google’s Nanodegrees are a Game Changer 

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By looking to find the next generation of software developers, Google is changing the face of education

The problem with many courses is that they will inevitably have a hard time gaining a reputation amidst traditional degrees. In order to achieve parity in terms of credibility, they need differentiating factors. Online courses have to be somehow better in some regard or fill a basic need that is currently not serviced.

Training the Next Generation 

That need has just been revealed. Google has blown open the concept of online courses with its Android development nanodegree. It is designed specifically to fulfil Google’s own need for Android developers, with the industry facing a critical shortage. The program’s creator, Sebastian Thrun says there are hundreds of thousands of coding jobs going unfilled.

Google’s nanodegree takes between 6-9 months to complete and is fully online. It differentiates itself from other courses through mentors, project grading, and guidance from Google’s experts in app development. It costs $200 a month, a tiny amount compared to conventional degrees but that’s not why this program is special. The real value lies in the expert tuition from Google’s own developers. If it wasn’t enough that the student can learn from Google experts, the degree may lead to a job with Google itself. Indeed, Google’s partnership with Udacity to deliver their nanodegree is primarily to fulfil their own developer shortages, with Google planning to hire the brightest and best.

Building Careers

Even those who do not get hired can expect a fantastic career in app development for other firms writing Android code. Thrun said, “If you do what we tell you to do with this program, you can get $100,000, $180,000 as an entry-level salary in Silicon Valley.”

This is staggering and its importance for app developers and the wider concept of nanodegrees cannot be understated. Online degrees needed a differentiator to come of age, and it has found it in the most spectacular and relevant way possible – they have been validated by arguably the world’s most relevant company.

Are there Alternative’s to Google’s nanodegree?

There are other nanodegrees offered by Udacity in tandem with software and tech companies. Those comparable to Google’s Android development degree are listed and are known to result in jobs in app development (or similar) shortly after graduation.

AT&T: IOS Developer Nanodegree, Front-End Web Developer Nanodegree

Amazon Services, AT&T, GitHub, Google: Full Stack Web Developer Nanodegree

Facebook, mongoDB, Zipfian Academy: Data Analyst Nanodegree

The bottom line

You don’t need a Google nanodegree to learn how to code. You can learn it yourself for free and display your talents on sites like http://insightdatascience.com. If your coding is good enough, you will be found. However, what the Google nanodegree and others are doing is formalizing the process, making it accredited and providing a more structured pathway to jobs in IT and app development. Combine that with expert tuition from leading developers looking to hire the students they teach and it is a win-win.