Cloud computing just keeps getting better and better and many small businesses are latching on to those benefits. International Data Corporation (IDC), a leading purveyor of IT market intelligence, found that more than 70 percent of small companies (less than 100 employees) and more than 90 percent of midsize companies (less than 1,000 employees) have shifted to cloud computing within the U.S. According to the study: “Some factors include a desire for cloud storage services, including cloud-based backup and archiving; the continued presence of employee-owned mobile devices; and the adoption of mobile email and basic collaborative apps like Microsoft Office 365.” This also makes it easier to have remote employees.
Earlier this year, Hootsuite founder and CEO Ryan Holmes prognosticated social media marketing moving forward: “Reaching users the old-fashioned way on social media is no longer going to make the cut. Algorithms are increasingly limiting the percentage of your own audience that sees your posts. In 2017, businesses should start investing a portion of their marketing budgets into native ads and promoted posts to successfully reach audiences. It can be highly targeted, plus it’s easy to track return on investment in terms of views and clicks.”
AR and VR
Facebook is one of the most popular social media channels in our industry, and the analytics are continuing to dig deeper than ever before into its users likes, behaviors, and feelings. In 2016, one of the biggest complaints by marketing departments was the lack of good consumer data—and the prevalence of some especially bad data—through Facebook, so the platform has stepped up its collaboration with third parties to deliver this year. It might be worth a look for your marketing portfolio in 2017. Plus, Facebook and Snapchat allow a user to make a purchase directly through the platform; while our industry isn’t there yet, it should be on your radar.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have been trending again since last summer. You might remember the ’80s and ’90s versions of VR made popular by dismal movies like Brainstorm, Disclosure, or The Lawnmower Man, but the technology has clearly matured. What does it mean moving forward? Thanks to the success of AR game Pokemon Go, we’re likely to see more games throughout the year (and some operators already took advantage of the craze to market to those players). VR was the rage during the holidays with Samsung Gear, goggles that work with Samsung phones. Business Insider thinks concerts could be a natural fit for VR this year: “Venues will be able to livestream entire shows for people who want to watch ... without shelling out hundreds of dollars for a Kanye West concert. Companies like NextVR are already partnering with Live Nation to make the setup a (non-virtual) reality.” Imagine transporting friends to a concert-viewing party rather than to the stadium.
Make 2017 the year that you up your game on digital security—or finally put a plan in place—because the threats are only growing.
Keeping It All Healthy
Efficiency may be the name of the game but security will save the day. Make this the year you lock down your cybersecurity plan for everything from your website to your office workstations. We’re not judging you if your idea of an IT consultation involves asking your 15-year-old kid, but it means you’ve dodged a bullet and it’s long overdue that you get serious about hiring a professional to both assess and mitigate your risk. Don’t think that a breach can’t happen to you because you operate a small business with only a few employees: If you’re connected to the internet in any way with any device, you’re vulnerable without a plan.
Consult With Your Software Provider
Keeping your client safe doesn’t end at providing a well-maintained vehicle and a professional chauffeur; you are also tasked with keeping their personal information and data safe. While you can be forgiven for not understanding the technology to make that happen, you can’t be for neglecting to ask for help. Your software provider has a vested interest in ensuring that your equipment is protected, so use them as a resource. They will have plenty of suggestions—or be able to refer you to someone who can help.
Office PC Health
When it comes to hardware and software, your company workstations are probably lower on the list. For some of you, that means that you’re still using the same old equipment you purchased years ago, which likely has the same old operating system. If you do not have a dedicated IT employee or team, then you need to listen up. Almost everyone uses Windows, so are your employees installing updates or clicking to ignore those important patches and fixes? Don’t roll your eyes; you’d be surprised how many companies aren’t taking these basic steps.
Ideally, your workstations are installed with Windows 10, which will force an auto-update after a certain interval, but many smaller businesses may still be using older versions where employees can choose to disregard their computer’s plea to install updates—leaving you vulnerable to dangerous attacks and security flaws. To check if all of the latest updates are installed, click on settings, then Windows update to see if you’re current.
Better yet, consider updating to Office 365 Small Business, which requires an annual subscription per user but is continuously updated with the latest programs available. Yes, it will cost you money, but, depending upon the programs you use, could be a worthy business expenditure to ensure that you are running the most secure operating system available. But this also has larger implications for your network: Think of all the reservations and important client information you run through those computers. Also, Microsoft will stop releasing updates (i.e., patches and security fixes) for older versions of Windows, so it would behoove you to make the move. By the way, this applies to updates for your antispyware and antivirus software, too.
It’s incredible the damage that a malicious email can do, and hackers have gotten really smart in recent years. Most of us can spot the junk emails a mile away—misspelled subject lines with promises of cheap Viagra or strange sender email addresses—but the better designed ploys are masked as banks or credit card companies urging a password change in totally legitimate-looking emails. Spam filters are great but imperfect. The end result could be a breach of your system, stolen account information, or even ransomware, which is becoming surprisingly more common for businesses of all sizes. In this case, it helps to hire an IT consultant who can train employees—and you!—on what to look for and how to avoid falling into that all-too-common trap. One quick way to check: Hover over the email sender to see if the email matches the one displayed. If the message is purportedly from a major financial institution, then it shouldn’t be coming from a Gmail account, for example.
Protecting Smart Devices
If you’ve never heard the term Internet of Things or IoT, you’re possibly familiar with an incident in October 2015 when you couldn’t access your Netflix or Twitter account. In simplest terms, that denial of service attack was caused by a security loophole in your smart camera, coffeemaker, or any other device that “talks” to your other devices simultaneously connecting to those popular websites and overwhelming them. It was a wake-up call because the IoT market is only getting larger in 2017: Smart thermostats, refrigerators, washers, speakers, bike locks, shower controls, and all kinds of specialized robots—to name a few—packed the halls of the Consumer Electronics Show in early January.
This level of connectivity does require some diligence. In short, your IT department should be in control of any item with an IP address, including the beloved coffee pot that you can control with your smartphone. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), if you’re setting up your device for the first time, don’t just plug it in and accept the default settings. Use the advanced settings to modify for your purposes: If it allows for a passcode lockout or to enable encryption, you can add a layer of protection by accepting that setting.
If you’ve already set up your device, change the factory default password to a stronger one with different case letters, numbers, and symbols—which was why those devices were so easily manipulated in that attack in October. Finally, be sure to install updates when your devices alert you that new ones are available. Also, the FTC recommends that you actually do register that device instead of throwing away that card that you get in the box so that the manufacturer can contact you directly about security issues or recalls.
Don’t forget to apply this same security to your other internet connected devices such as your WiFi router or credit card machine—both of which ideally should be set up by the company or an IT professional. The bottom line? The more items you have with an IP address, the more dialed-in you have to be with your security.
Don’t Forget Your [Low-Tech] Roots
According to Monica King, founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox, “The more we connect digitally, the more we feel disconnected in person ... As we continue to strive for new technology, there will be a growing appreciation and deeper craving for quality offline experiences. In essence, if you are not dedicating time or learning how to make time for offline quality experience, you are going to miss out.”
Doesn’t our industry already have this advantage? Technology is ridiculously important to your business and the way you interact with clients, but it’s easy to let it become either a distraction or an all-consuming obsession. Finding the perfect balance of technology and customer touch points is essential for your continued growth in 2017.
One of the biggest complaints that business travelers have when using TNCs is the lack of human interaction (save for the driver) when there is an emergency or billing error, in which case they are expected to use the app to file the complaint and wait for a customer service email that the issue was resolved. Clients want easy ways to communicate with you as much as they want to be able to—surprise!—access a human nearly immediately in case something happens. Make sure that you’re not looking so broadly at technology that you’re overlooking the things that make your service great. [CD0217]