30/09/12 - High-web SMEs are reaping internet benefits
27/08/12 - How to spot and deal with online scams
28/07/12 - 10 essential online shopping cart features
28/06/12 - 10 features every business web site needs
25/05/12 - How to improve your business security
14/04/12 - The cost of security threats to business
30/03/12 - 10 tips to getting your email newsletter read
16/03/12 - The information glut impact on business
23/02/12 - Keeping business information safe online
12/02/12 - Online shopping tips for business
21/01/12 - Technologies that support Teleworking
08/01/12 - Teleworking - how does it help my business?
News, updates, business and technology articles presented in this section are in accordance with Astute's disclosure and disclaimer policies.
High-web SMEs are reaping internet benefits
The Boston Group report that the Internet economy will reach $4.2 trillion in by 2016; servicing 3 billion Internet users. The Group surveyed more than 15,000 SMEs in the G20 countries; classifying them into "web" categories:
- High-web. SMEs that use a wide range of Internet tools to market, sell and support customers, suppliers and employees.
- Medium-web. SMEs that sell goods or services online via a web site or social networking site.
- Low-web. SMEs that only have a web site or social networking site.
- No-web. SMEs that do not have any online presence.
Findings from the report include:
- Over the last three years in 11 of the G-20 countries high-web SMEs have experienced a 22% higher revenue growth than low-web and no-web SMEs.
- High-web SMEs are twice as likely (compared to the other categories) to have a national and international customer base.
- High- and medium-web SMEs generate more jobs. As an example in Germany, 93% of high-web and 82% of medium-web SMEs increased employment over the past three years, compared with only 50% of the no-web SMEs.
Using the report findings it is clear that high-web SMEs are benefiting from the Internet.
The report also identified and listed the barriers that are stopping SMEs transitioning from no-web category to medium to high web category; these barriers include:
- Poor access to technology
- Lack of (IT) capability
- Lack of (IT) resources
- Doubt over the potential returns (of the IT investment)
- Unfavourable business environment
How to spot and deal with online scams
In 2011 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reported that it received over 83,000 scam reports and enquiries; the total loss reported to scam was more than $85.6 million (AUD).
In 2009 research conducted by the NZ Ministry of Consumer Affairs found that 15% of New Zealand adults have been tricked out of money; estimating that an average $2,300 (NZD) is lost per scam.
Both Australian and NZ organisations have noted that online and electronic fraud schemes are the majority of all attempted scams.
Astute has put together some hints to help businesses identify, report and keep informed about online scams.
Signs that an web page, email or invitation to an online event is a scam include:
- An offer to you that costs you nothing; especially when you have had no previous correspondence or involvement with individual or organisation.
- An opportunity to earn easy money in exchange for an up-front cash fee and perhaps your account details.
- An email claiming to be from a financial institution requesting you to click on a link to correct a fault with your account (e,g. reset your password).
- An email containing an invoice to renew your business domain name (web site address) that is from a different domain provider.
- An email containing an invoice for a subscription for an entry in a bogus international online trade directory. Sometimes they are doctored to look like those used by genuine directory publishers.
- An email containing an invoice for goods or services you did not order, addressed to an employee in your company.
- A request for a payment being made to an unconnected party in a different country.
To keep your business safe from online scams:
- Trust your instincts. If in doubt, delete.
- Check your business bank account and credit card statements; report unfamiliar transactions.
- Never share business account pin numbers, or internet banking user names or passwords.
- Restrict the number of individuals and organisations who have access to your and your business details. Only provide personal information (e.g. date of birth, passport details etc) to trusted people and organisations.
- Never use links from visiting web sites or email to access your business bank or financial web sites; always type in the full address of the web site in the browser.
- Do not use public computers in internet cafes, libraries or hotels for internet banking or any business financial transactions.
You can report online scams to one of the following organisations:
You an also subscribe to scam alert services from:
- Scamwatch Australia
- Scamwatch New Zealand
10 essential online shopping cart features
Online shopping carts are used by businesses to advertise and sell products and services to customers over the Internet. Online shopping carts must:
- Be accessible from your business web site and provide consistent customer service, sales, support and maintenance features.
- Provide customer registration and self-service account management facilities (e.g. forgotten password retrieval and password resets).
- Keep previous customer purchase history and make it accessible to the customer when they come back to the shop. Make it easy for the customer re-purchase items; if the item is not longer stocked make available an equivalent replacement item.
- Provide detailed information on the products and services offered for sale. The challenge is that, unlike conventional retail shopping your customers cannot see or feel the product; they need to be provided with confidence that the product meets their needs. Include good quality photos, videos, technical and physical specifications of the products being offered.
- Provide facilities to allow customers to provide feedback on both the products and services purchased and on the experience of purchasing online with your business. This will inform future customers of your credibility and reputation as a provider of online products and services.
- Support rewards programs and incentives used to bring the customer back to your online business.
- Include delivery and tracking systems used to advise customers of the progress of their order. This will avoid the need to provision customer sales support resources.
- Monitor and track both product stock levels and services availability to ensure an accurate and reliable customer supply and delivery experience.
- Include the capability to support online payment; including taxes and charges levied.
- Provide a secure and safe shopping experience for your customers.
10 features every business web site needs
According to the ICT in New Zealand (NZ) and Australia (AU) reportreleased by Statistics New Zealand in 2009:
- 74% of internet users used their browsing time to research information about goods and services
- 43% of internet users made a payment online
- 64% of NZ businesses (53% of AU businesses) used the internet to place orders
- 42% of NZ businesses (29% of AU businesses) received orders over the internet
It is clear that customers and business partners are looking online to locate business goods and services. What does your business online presence offer now and what should it have?
At Astute we have compiled a list of 10 things every business web site should have. A business web site:
- Must look professional and help improve awareness of your business products and services. Remember that you only get one click to capture a potential customer. Using a professional web design company is essential; they can not only help with the look and feel of the site they can also help with the brand and marketing.
- Must have a clear and concise description of your business products and services.
- Must provide useful and accurate information to allow visitors and customers to assess the benefits of your products and services. The site should have frequently asked questions (FAQ), resource and customer testimonial pages that are updated regularly.
- Must be structured and configured to maximise its rankings in internet search requests. This is achieved by applying search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques to the site.
- Must reference and provide easy access to any social media (Facebook™, Google+™, Twitter™ etc) or other online presence the business has. This allows a visitor to check customer experiences, references and overall business online reputation.
- Must be easy for visitors (potential customers), customers and business partners to make contact with you. The site should have a contact page that includes contact numbers, locations and email address.
- Must allow interested visitors to self register for your business products and services.
- Must allow your customers to securely access resources, products and services offered by the business. This may include payment for these products and services as well as self-service account and password management.
- Must define all terms, conditions and disclaimers associated with products and services offered by your business.
- Must define all the policies, standards and caveats the business operates under. This includes human resources and environmental policies.
How to improve your business security
In our April 2012 article we reported that it costs between $2,400 and $12,000 (AUD) for a business to recover from a security incident. This cost does not include the impact to the reputation of the business with its customers and partners.
At Astute we have compiled 3 areas and practices that will improve your businesses security
1. Security threat prevention measures
a) Keep your computer operating systems and applications up to date. Apply vendor recommended release patches immediately.
b) Make sure all your business computing environments have anti-virus software installed, patched and licensed.
c) Enforce the use of user name and password access all your business computing environments.
d) Make sure that desktop computers are configured to automatically lock if they are not being used. In Windows this is done by configuring a password with the screen saver.
e) Do not grant administration rights to all users of your computing environments. Administration rights should only be allocated to users who know how to use them.
f) Restrict the use of removal media (e.g. external USB flash drives); make sure they are "signed out" when needed, tracked and returned.
g) Use encryption every where you can:
- Encrypt your Wi-Fi by turning on WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) or WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) on all of your devices. Do not allow your wireless to broadcast its location.
- Encrypt critical data (system passwords, customer passwords etc).
- Use removable media with built in encryption.
- Encrypt access (HTTPS, TLS) to any online systems that store critical data.
2. Organisational policies and staff training
a) Identify and define your business critical data (e.g. system passwords, customer account names and passwords etc). This is the data you need to protect.
b) Document, inform and train employees about the proper and secure use of business computer resources, password management and user access (E.g. Do not open email attachments that look suspicious before first verifying the contents with the sender.)
c) Limit the number of staff who have administrative access to your computers; train administrators on their responsibilities and accountabilities.
d) Have a documented and published plan in place for dealing with loss of data and service as a result of a fraud. Identify and define tasks, roles and responsibilities required to get your service back online; include customer and media communications strategy to use while the service is being restored.
3. Physical security
a) Make sure all computer servers are physically secured (e.g. in a locked room or data centre).
b) Make sure you have a firewall everywhere you are connected to the internet.
c) Back up your data on a regular basis. Make sure backups are stored off site (in the even the server room and contents are damaged).
Astute's information and technology consultants can assist and advise you to improve your business security. Simply take advantage of our free and no-obligation business and technology consultation.
The cost of security threats to business
Small businesses make up approximately 95% of all business in Australia and contribute approximately 34% of private industry value to the economy. In New Zealand there are more than 470,000 small businesses that account for 31% of employment.
Cyber attacks stop small businesses being productive; this can have wider economic implications for the country.
In 2007 the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) surveyed 3290 small businesses. One of the most significant findings of the survey was that it cost small business an average of AUD $2431 per security incident; this is the cost of the loss of data and / or service incurred as a result of a security threat.
The AIC small business survey reported the following:
- 83% (of businesses) had experienced one to five security incidents.
- 75% of those who had experienced security incidents reported adverse consequences.
- 65% experienced one or more incident with malware.
- 44% experienced one or more incidents relating to spyware infections.
- 84% (of businesses) were using anti-virus software.
- 63% were using anti-spam programs.
- 58% were using anti-spyware tools.
- 70% were using firewalls to protect their computer systems.
- 7% had policies in place stipulating acceptable computer use (and access) by staff.
- 20% kept computer servers locked in a secure room.
- 28% limited user access to work computers.
- 16% physically secured latops.
- 7% secured wireless devices.
Astute's opinion. As indicated in the survey results security threats, without protection measures applied, have significant cost and reputation impacts to business.
10 tips to getting your email newsletter read
Email newsletters are a mechanism to regularly distribute topics of interest to your customers. Research undertaken by the Nielsen Norman Group indicates:
- Users spent an average of 51 seconds on each of the newsletters they read from their own email inbox.
- Users spent an additional 33 seconds on information found by pursuing newsletter links to web sites.
- The number of new or unread messages in a users email inbox is now three times higher than it was just four years ago.
It is clear that your newsletter has a limited opportunity to be opened and (maybe) read by your customers or business partners.
To improve your chances of getting your email newsletters opened and read Astute have compiled the following tips:
- Use a newsletter service that allows you to track and monitor how your target market is responding to your newsletters. Look for terms like "opening rates", "bounce rates" and "referral rates" in the service. Products1 like MailChimp, Sendpepper, AWeber, and Constant Contact can assist with generating, monitoring and tracking newsletters.
- Research topics and content your customers are interested in. Understand how often they would like to receive content and what content could be used to create a community or following through the newsletter.
- Ensure your newsletter allows recipients to both subscribe and unsubscribe from the service. In some countries businesses can face prosecution for not providing mechanisms to allow users to unsubscribe from a service.
- Make sure the newsletter is sent from your business email domain; links in the newsletter should always return the user to a page on a web site with same domain name.
- Personalise the newsletter; start with "Hello Firstname Surname," instead of "Hello All" or "Dear Valued Customer".
- Do not flood the newsletter with your company branding.
- Keep the newsletter content concise and to the point; there is less than 30 seconds to get the message across.
- Never use the newsletter to ask customers for account information; this will result in the email being treated as part of a phishing scam.
- Tailor the newsletter content based on the market or customer segment. E.g. Details on a new tax or investment product is not relevant to a financial advisor.
- Trial the newsletter content before distribution with a selected group of customers. Get feedback. Repeat the process until the content is ready to distribute.
1Astute Technology Solutions does not have a business or financial relationship with the listed providers.
The information glut impact on business
Hitachi Data Systems Ltd1 released a study of information management practices across 400 Australian and New Zealand business and government organisations. The study ()The Great Information Glut) concluded:
- One in every three companies with more than 100 full-time employees is suffering under the burden of excessive growth in digital information and/or the mis-management of that information.
- Estimated costs of the burden to Australian business is $3 billion (AUD); cost to New Zealand businesses is $400 million (NZD) per annum.
- Using efficient data management systems companies can save 30% to 50% of time spent looking for data.
- The main causes of the "information glut" are inadequate budget and lack of resources required to manage the information.
- One in three ICT decision makers say their organisation is being choked up or made inflexible due to excessive growth or mis-management of information.
- One-in-three organisations have been unable to recover files from their backup; they could not respond to a discovery audit for emails that are 18 months old.
- Organisations who invest in innovation and technology are less likely to be stuck in an information glut.
The survey conclusions are consistent with Astute's industry experiences.
Common "information glut" problems are:
- Locating information; especially if the information is dated (old).
- Storing too much information. What should be collected (preserved) and what should be disposed of?
- Back-up and recovery of data. What is the cost (to productivity and reputation of an organisation) of not being able to access the company's information.
1Astute Technology Solutions does not have a business or financial relationship with the listed providers.
Keeping business information safe online
In our February 2012 article we presented tips to keep financial data safe while shopping online. This month Astute presents how to keep personal and business information safe online:
- Free online services funded by advertising are selling your data. Check site terms and conditions; use account settings to control what personal data can be shared.
- Regularly change your online account passwords. Use a strong password creation approach.
- Only submit sensitive information over encrypted connections; such as https. Always look for "https://" in the browser address bar; make sure the browser recognises the site security certificate.
- Do not share accounts on a computer. All users of the computer should have their own account (or use a guest account). In this way every computer users privacy is protected.
- Backup and encrypt your online data. When using online services make sure you understand how and where you can access your data for backup purposes.
- Any comments you place online are going to be around for a long time. Before posting consider whether this is information you want potential new customers to see.
- Restrict and limit access to those who can track your location online. Only share your location details with the most trusted of colleagues or customers.
Online shopping tips for business
In 2011 sales from Cyber-Monday exceeded 1 billion dollars in the USA; making it the busiest online shopping day to date.
As more people are shopping online there is also an increase in online fraud schemes; schemes designed to deceive shoppers into providing their account numbers and passwords so fraudsters can access their money.
So how do business owners protect themselves and their customers from online fraud?
Astute has collated the following tips and approaches to online shopping for business owners and their customers to help reduce exposure and risk to online fraud.
TIP 1 - Research. When shopping online take the time to research the company behind the web site before making any purchases.
As a customer - Search the web for articles on the company and quality of service offered; read and understand the site terms and conditions; call any contact numbers listed on the web site.
As a business owner - Make sure you post and update your terms and conditions on the site and provide customer support services via email and phone.
TIP 2 - Secure payments.When ordering make sure the web site is secure and encrypted; especially when you are entering your account or credit card details.
As a customer - Look for https and/or lock image in the browser address bar.
As a business owner - Make sure you use a known and trusted provider of certificates used for encryption and use a solution payment provider that does not require you to hold and store customer account or card information.
TIP 3 - Strong password. Use a strong and secure password to access your account on the web site.
As a customer - Use decent strength passwords, do not use the same password across different web sites and use a secure application (such as KeyPass Password Safe) to securely generate and store your passwords.
As a business owner - Make sure your web site account management system does not store customer passwords in readable (clear) text. Also make sure the system includes customer self-service password management.
As a customer - Never respond to emails that request you to provide or update your account, bank or card details.
As a business owner - Never use email for account management. Ensure your system is free from malware and viruses by being up-to-date with security scans.
TIP 5 - Use a credit card. Most card issuers have zero liability policies under which the card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it.
As a customer - You can dispute the payment (with the credit card provider) and receive a refund if you don't receive the item or there are unauthorised charges on your credit card.
As a business owner - Provide a secure credit card payment facility with a known and trusted provider.
TIP 6 - Keep the receipt. Keep all documentation of your online order. Use the documentation to track the status of the shipping, delivery dates and warranties associated with the product.
As a customer - After completing the online order process saving a copy of the web page and any emails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.
As a business owner - Use a online payment system that allows customers to check and track the contents and status of their orders.
Technologies that support Teleworking
In our first article for 2012 we discussed the concept of teleworking (or telecommuting) and its benefits for business. In this article we discuss technologies and approaches that support teleworking.
To telework employees need:
- Computing device (e.g. PC, Smartphone or tablet)
- Communications (e.g. Mobile phone)
- Internet access (i.e. broadband, WIFI etc)
- Remote and secured access to business applications including email, shared calendars, document creation and management, chat, time sheeting, finance and accounting, sales, customer details etc.
Business owners need to ensure that the telework technologies chosen are secure, reliable, accessible (over the internet), available and recoverable.
Technologies and approaches available to business owners to support teleworking include:
- Thin client (or profile) applications that operate over the internet via a web browser. Avoid technologies that require the teleworker to download and install applications. This is costly (in terms of time and maintenance) and increases the chance of virus and malware attacks.
- Highly available platforms. Use the cloud; pay for what you need when you need it.
- Secure and encrypt. Access to internet applications require (at a minimum) a dedicated user account and password. Ensure the application is configured so teleworkers can only access the detail they need to perform their duties. Do not let employees / teleworkers use (or share) generic accounts.Make sure all access to internet applications is done over encrypted links
- Backup and archive. Ensure you have reliable and accurate copies of your business applications, financials and customer data. Make sure you have a plan and process to recover your business data as a result of a disaster or failure. Practise this plan at least twice a year
Astute has experience locating and delivering the applications and systems needed for teleworking. Please contact Astute for a free and no-obligation quotation.
Teleworking - how does it help my business?
Telework is a concept (identical to telecommuting) that offers employees the flexibility to work remotely (from the office) on a regular basis. The difference between the terms telework and telecommuting is that telework is embedded in a US federal government act (U.S. Telework Enhancement Act of 2010).
The working from home concept is well known to most business owners; in fact most small businesses start in the home and (through growth) move their operations into a business premises.
The telework difference is that the employees (not necessarily the business owners) provide the products and services of the business remotely (i.e. away from the business premises).
Telework offers the following business benefits:
- Improved employment productivity, recruitment and retention. Studies indicate that employees that are offered the option to telework are clearer about work expectations, have higher job satisfaction, and are less likely to express an intention to leave (to those who are not offered the option).
- Improved employee work/life balance. The same studies have indicated that every 60 minutes employees save on commuting, they work an extra 40 minutes remotely.
- Reduced business infrastructure costs (e.g. office furniture and fit-outs, the amount of office rental space, power and cabling and even personal computers).
- Employee cost savings (i.e. reduced commuting costs).
- Reduction of traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, and wear and tear on public transportation.
- Improved business continuity. The technology used to enable remote working allows the access to the business systems anywhere and at any time.
- Job sharing and extended office / support hours.
One of the common employee concerns about telework is the feeling of isolation; not being in the office to participate with the team or group. This can be addressed by limiting the number of working remote days in the week or having regular off-site team meetings and get-togethers (e.g. local coffee shop).
Business owners note:
- Telework is a benefit and/or incentive that should be offered to trusted employees.
- Telework does not work for all roles in an organisation. E.g customer over-the-counter service.
- Technology is the enabler for the Telework concept to work. Most employees have a PC and broadband connection; the basics required to telework. Business owners need to select the correct technology to enable remote access to their systems (e.g. email, calendar, documents and systems).
- Privacy and security. Business owners need to secure and protect their intellectual property as well as ensuring their customer privacy is maintained.
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