Archives for January 2012

Simple formulas in Excel: SUM and AVERAGE


You can also view the quick video version of this tip, that demonstrates all the methods of summing and averaging numbers.

Adding Up Numbers
You have multiple columns or rows of numbers. You don’t want to have to add them all up on your calculator, and you don’t want to have to re-add them if the numbers change. The simplest solution? Use AutoSum!

To add up a row or column of numbers, highlight all of the cells you want to add up (either vertically down a column or horizontally in a row), and then click AutoSum on the ribbon in the Editing group.

If you want to type the SUM formula, so you can have even more control, click in any empty cell and type =SUM(CELL:CELL), where CELL:CELL are the first and last cells in your range. A finished formula would look like =SUM(A1:A12). Hit Enter on your keyboard and your sum should appear!

Averaging Numbers
The AVERAGE formula works the same as the SUM formula. To use it, select a range of numbers and then click the down arrow next to AutoSum on the Ribbon. From the drop-down list, select Average.

If you want to type the AVERAGE formula, it works the same way as the SUM formula as well. In a blank cell, type =AVERAGE(CELL:CELL), where CELL:CELL are the first and last cells in the range you want to average. Then hit Enter on your keyboard and your average number will appear.


How Free Antivirus Software Can End Up Costing You

used with permission from Symantec




Free antivirus software may seem like a bargain, but it’s not. Learn what issues you need to consider before you download this particular “freeware.”

In this tough economy, getting something for free is always a good thing, right? Short answer: It depends on your tolerance for risk.

Take free antivirus software as an example. It may seem like a bargain, but it’s not. Here are the issues to consider before you download this particular “freeware.”

First and foremost, free antivirus software doesn’t provide the comprehensive protection you need against today’s biggest online threats. So when you trust your computer, applications, files and identity to free antivirus software, it can end up costing you more in time, aggravation, and money than you ever imagined.

Most free antivirus software is really just bait that some software companies use to lure you in. It’s usually a “light” version of one of their paid products that offers only limited protection against today’s online threats.

After you install most free antivirus software, you can expect to be hit with a barrage of annoying, time-wasting pop-up alerts telling you that it only provides “basic” protection. Then you’ll receive recommendations to switch to one of the software maker’s paid security products for “complete” protection.

Latest threats get a free pass
Another point to keep in mind: Experts agree that today’s biggest online threats come in forms that free antivirus software doesn’t stop. Threats such as rootkits, bots, keyloggers, hackers, phishing scams, and infected Web sites breeze right past most free antivirus software.

These threats can pose an even bigger danger than viruses, not only to your computer and files, but to your bank account as well. They can lead to a hard drive crash, system failure, or worse, identity theft. And that’s when using free antivirus software can get really expensive.

Also, free antivirus software is generally reactive. That means it only deals with threats after they’ve attacked and had an opportunity to do damage to your computer and files.

And that’s not all. Because free antivirus software offers only limited protection, you also have to find, download, configure, and install a standalone firewall and standalone spyware program to get the protection you really need.

That takes time. A lot of it. But the drain on your time doesn’t end there. When you build your own security suite using standalone free security software, compatibility issues can cause conflicting alerts and even hard drive crashes. That’s even more time wasted — and a whole load of aggravation you don’t need.

So what’s the bottom line? Free antivirus software simply doesn’t provide the comprehensive protection you need in today’s online world. When you add up the various costs listed above, free antivirus software isn’t free at all.


Eight Strategies for First-rate Customer Service

used with permission from the Cisco Small Business Resource Center 



Are you providing your customers with the satisfying experience that will keep them coming back? 
In a marketplace where too many products and services are chasing too little demand, businesses face a daunting challenge: do everything possible to attract and retain customers.

The stakes are high: Reducing customer attrition by 5 to 10 percent can increase annual profits by as much as 75 percent, according to a study by The Wharton School.

“The next economy will be characterized by customer infidelity. Only those companies focusing on the customer experience will command the loyalty necessary to survive and succeed,” says Elliott Ettenberg, a former chairman and CEO of Bozell Retail Worldwide and now president of Ettenberg & Company, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in customer service and turnaround marketing.

Customer service starts by offering both a trouble-free shopping experience and a smooth business transaction. But now more than ever it’s also about anticipating and meeting a person’s or company’s wants, not just needs.

Here are eight strategies for creating a relationship with your customers that will keep them coming back:

1. Commit to knowing your customer. 
In today’s interconnected and knowledge-based economy, a business’s survival depends on how well the business and IT sides of the company join to meet the needs of customers. Until recently, only large enterprises with hefty budgets could afford the tools needed to manage the entire customer experience.

With the advent of new tools and technologies, such as unified communications and affordable customer relationship management software, many of the cost barriers for smaller businesses are disappearing.

“The company of the future will focus on a combination of people, processes, and technology to achieve success and stay competitive in the new interactive economy. And they’ll alter their corporate mindset to deliver the rich customer experience, one customer at a time,” says Rob Lloyd, Senior Vice President of US and Canada Operations at Cisco.

2. Create a customer experience roadmap. 
What is the customer experience you want? What new customer-service capabilities will you need to add? What new resources will allow your workforce to be more effective? Can your existing network support the new technologies your business will need in the future, such as call centers, online services and advanced security? Use these questions to create a customer service roadmap that ensures your IT infrastructure evolves in step with your business vision.

With every business and technology decision ask yourself: “Will this investment help my employees better understand the value and needs of my customers and promote superior customer service?”

3. Remove barriers to information, connectivity and collaboration. 
The more you increase your customer knowledge and centralize it into single customer profile, the better positioned you will be to deliver a satisfying customer experience at every customer touch point, be it on the Web, face to face, e-mail, or telephone.

Do your sales, marketing and support people currently manage separate databases? If so, build a strategy to merge all information into a single customer database accessible by as many people in as many places as possible.

4. Converge your networks. 
Businesses can both reduce costs and enhance customer service by migrating voice and data infrastructures onto a single converged IP network. With a converged, integrated network, there is only one network to manage and one system on which to train technical employees and end users.

It’s estimated that by the year 2010, 40 percent of small and medium-sized companies will have integrated their entire voice and data networks into a single network and more than 95 percent of large and midsize companies will have at least started the process, according to Gartner, a market research firm.

5. Utilize IP Communication Tools. 
A large percentage of customer interactions still take place over the phone. Tools like integrated voice and data messaging help employees communicate more efficiently. Single Number Reach enables customers to connect to employees with a single call instead of multiple calls.

Cisco Unified Contact Center Express allows businesses to deploy contact center software that routes customer calls to the agent or employee who can best address the customer issue. In turn, employees have faster access to customer data, improving their ability to provide superior customer service and increase customer loyalty.

And IP Communications-based rich media conferencing enhances collaboration between co-workers, partners, and customers.

6. Deploy a CRM solution. 
Customer interactions happen across multiple channels and departments. How can you easily manage all this activity? Customer relationship management (CRM) software is designed to collect, organize, analyze, and disseminate information about customers, including:

  • Purchases and returns

  • Buying habits and other behaviors

  • The products they own

  • The newer products they’re likely to buy

  • Service contracts

With CRM software, SMBs can track performance across the entire organization. This includes business activity and employee performance for an inside sales team, call duration and first-call resolution in a contact center, and accurate invoice tracking and billing.

All this information can be quickly communicated to management for more informed decision making.

7. Integrate IP Communications with CRM. 
The convergence of IP telephony with CRM solutions erases many of the obstacles to achieving a truly customer-centric company. The Cisco Unified CRM Connector integrates Cisco Unified Communications with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM application to provide all staff—not just call center agents—with an easy-to-use and more complete CRM solution.

By combing the two, employees can pull up contact information on the screen of any IP telephone on the network. Now employees in any department, such as accounting or shipping and receiving, can view the latest customer information and can better answer customer inquiries and look for cross sell or up sell opportunities. Because all the information can be provided to remote workers, companies can extend their workforce beyond the reach of traditional offices.

8. Continually modify.
Every company, regardless of size, must track the performance of people, processes and workflows to determine how well they are delivering a satisfying customer experience. Here are some key questions to keep in mind.

  • Are we managing all our customer interactions well from first contact to last?

  • Can customer information be accessed by every one who needs it, wherever they are located?

  • Are we continually identifying the needs of individual customers and providing the best response to the right customers at the right time?

Loyalty into profits
“Businesses that fail to build their services and networks around the customer experience will experience high customer turnover, decreasing market share, and increasing cost due to fragmented business processes,” says Ettenberg.

That’s why smart companies are taking a customer-centric approach to longevity and profitability.


Five Clever Ways To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

by Sharon Vaknin



Think back to last year’s resolutions–can you even remember what you resolved to achieve? Me neither.

Change isn’t easy, and when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, most people spend more time planning their goals than pursuing them. It’s the exact reason why fitness centers seem so packed in January and desolate by March.

But this year, if you’re resolving to lose weight, eat healthier, read more books, or improve your life in any other way, consider doing it differently with the help of technology.

1. Tell your social network
Make yourself accountable for your goals by exposing them to your social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Let your friends know what your goals are and how you plan to achieve them. If you want to lose weight, for example, update your status and say “This year, I plan to lose 15 pounds by exercising three times a week.”

2. Block out time and set reminders
If your resolutions require that you set time aside–like going to the gym–take advantage of your smartphone’s calendar and schedule time in advance. This way, you’ll be less likely to skip out on your commitments when someone asks you to make conflicting plans.

Then break each resolution down into smaller steps and use your smartphone to set reminders or “due dates” for these minigoals. By doing so, you make your resolutions seem more achievable, and the due dates will encourage you to stay committed.

Fitbit captures your daily activities using a pedometer-like device you wear throughout the day.

3. Look into dedicated gadgets
After a few weeks, when you’ve established good habits and deemed your resolution realistic, consider rewarding yourself with a dedicated gadget that will help you achieve the goal. For example, if you are resolving to read more, an e-reader like the Nook or Kindle can motivate you to stock up on more books.

Likewise, Fitbit or Adidas MiCoach are a couple of affordable devices that help you manage fitness and weight-loss in a fun way.

4. Find a community
It’s easy to feel discouraged when you’re pursuing something alone. But with the Internet and its bountiful communities, there’s no reason to tackle your resolutions in isolation. If you want to read more books, join a Web site like Goodreads. Or if it’s a weight-loss goal, check out places like SparkPeople and CalorieCount.

Even if these people aren’t your friends IRL (in real life), observing their progress and exchanging advice will keep you feeling positive about all the hard work you do.

Alternatively, start your own community by creating a Facebook group. Give it a fun name and invite friends (and their friends) to join the group. Not only will you hold each other accountable and swap tips but you yourself will also be more motivated by being the group leader spearheading the cause.

5. Start a blog
Since people who keep a weight-loss journal are twice as likely to shed pounds than others, try using a blog to further your goals. If the goal is to lose weight or perhaps stay on budget, the blog will help you monitor progress and hold you accountable for what you did (or didn’t!) do.

If your goal is project-oriented, like taking a photo each day, use the blog to post what you’ve produced. For example, many Tumblr blogs are dedicated to the “365 Day Photo Challenge” which requires you to post one photo per day.

Otherwise, if your goal is lifestyle-oriented, use the blog to reflect on your daily progress and use the notes to evaluate what you could do to improve, or simply bask in the glory of your success.

With these measures in place, you may end up joining the small group of people who successfully follow through with their New Year’s resolutions. When the goal-planning is complete, your final task is simple: just do it.

Sharon Vaknin is a CNET How To expert focusing on mobile devices, Web services, and computing. When she’s not giving tech advice, she’s cooking, working out, or eating sushi.


Ready to Dive into Software as a Service?

Reprinted with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Center



Randy Niederer had a problem. As director of marketing for Unico, a St. Louis-based manufacturer of specialty heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, he’d gathered leads, which were then sent to about 150 independent sales representatives. Unfortunately, the CRM software he used for tracking the leads proved too inflexible to meet the needs of the independent sales reps, who found the application cumbersome and often experienced problems entering complete information about their sales calls. The upshot? Unico had trouble knowing how or where its products were being sold or installed. Consequently, it was hard to improve sales, offer targeted marketing, and resolve customer service issues promptly.

Sales problems of a different sort plagued The Linc Group, a provider of high-value facilities management and building systems services. Headquartered in Irvine, California, the company has a geographically dispersed sales organization that serves customers in 45 states and 6 countries. With such a widely distributed organization, employees lacked ready access to standardized content and therefore found it difficult to create precise, professional proposals and contracts. Instead, they cobbled together proposals from previous documents, adding in content gleaned from e-mails and various internal information sites. The jury-rigged documents were time-consuming to create and frequently were riddled with redundancies, inconsistencies, and outright errors, which necessitated a lengthy legal review.

A widely scattered workforce created woes of a different sort for Briess Malt and Ingredients Company of Chilton, Wisconsin, a major producer of ingredients for the food, brewing, and pet food industries. With some 1,500 customers spread across North America, Briess relies on a mobile workforce that is often disconnected from the corporate network for days at a time. This created a big headache for the IT staff, who didn’t know which users had received the latest software updates. Often, IT personnel only became aware of a PC problem after the fact, when an employee returned to the office and complained about a computer glitch. This situation was not only inefficient, it created security issues that were exacerbated by the fact that the company’s security solution was not integrated with its PC-management software. Finally, the company was keeping track of its IT assets manually, an onerous, time-consuming chore that meant waiting for remote workers to return to the office in order to check what systems they were using. This catch-as-catch-can method of asset tracking made it tough to plan for IT purchases.

So, what do these three companies have in common? They all resolved their problems by utilizing Microsoft software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. Each solution was different, of course, but all took advantage of the scalability and affordability of cloud-based services, and the flexibility, reliability, and ease-of-use of Microsoft online offerings.

For Unico, the adoption of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online took care of the problems in tracking sales and installations. Compared to the company’s previous CRM solution (, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online offered a flexible, intuitive lead management system that was readily embraced by the independent sales representatives. The key was in the user interface, which was based on familiar Microsoft products like Office. In addition, the interface was easily tailored to Unico’s business processes, which made it far simpler for sales reps to enter data. According to marketing director Niederer, “There were salespeople who were concerned that the new system would be difficult to use, but they’ve since come back to us and said the system is so easy that it will be much easier to follow up on leads.”

Unico now has forms on its Web site that are automatically linked to the customer relationship management solution. “Distributors, contractors, and even homeowners can enter data about their purchases, serial numbers, and installation dates and all that information is automatically entered into the system,” says Niederer. This gives Unico a much more complete picture of its sales cycles and customer data. What’s more, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online has proven extremely cost-effective compared to and is expected to pay for itself within 18 months.

You don’t need to have Unico’s hierarchical sales structure to profit from Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. Any company that wants to improve its relationship with its customers (and what company doesn’t?) can benefit from Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online’s ease of use and powerful analytics. With Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, you’ll have the customer intelligence needed to perform real-time analysis and to streamline your business operations. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online interoperates with your Microsoft Office applications using compelling CRM tools, all delivered over the Internet.

Your marketing professionals will have a full suite of data management and segmentation tools, campaign management features, and marketing analytics. They’ll profit from insightful analysis of marketing programs and demand generation, and they’ll plan, launch, and manage campaigns using streamlined workflows. Your sales force will love the fast access to customer data and history, which allows them to spend more time selling and less time on mundane administrative chores. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online also provides salespeople with wizard-driven communications for altering existing customers and prospects to new product and service offerings.

The Linc Group found the consistency it needed by deploying a custom SaaS solution built on top of the Microsoft Business Productivity Suite, which included Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and Microsoft Office Communications Online, all coordinated with Microsoft Office 2007 system on employees’ computers. The resulting solution enabled salespeople to access pre-approved document components from a SharePoint Online library and then, using a customized add-in called Document Composer, to compose proposals and contracts. Because it is a cloud-based solution, it was quickly deployed and required no additional IT investment from the customer. With all the components other than the Microsoft Office applications and the Document Composer running in Microsoft datacenters, The Linc Group didn’t have to invest in new hardware, software, or support.

As great as this solution was, there is even better news today. With the soon-to-be-released Microsoft Office 365, businesses can access a complete SaaS package that offers the familiar Office applications and the new Office Web Apps, along with Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online-all with the affordability and flexibility of a cloud-based subscription service. With Office 365, you’ll have a variety of plans from which to choose, priced from $6 to $27 per month per user, and all with Microsoft’s 99.9% uptime guarantee. Your employees will have anywhere access to their email, documents, contacts, and calendar from almost any PC, Mac, or smartphone. With Office Web Apps they’ll be able to view, edit, and share documents. And each user will have a 25 gigabyte mailbox, access to sites to share documents securely with customers and colleagues, malware protection, integrated IM and presence, and online meetings with audio/video conferencing.

As for Briess Malt and Ingredients Company, they found relief from their PC management problems by implementing Windows Intune, a cloud computing solution that delivers PC management, information security, and asset management services through a single web console. Windows Intune helps safeguard the company’s PCs from malicious software with tools from the Microsoft Forefront Protection Suite and Microsoft Security Essentials. IT administrators can monitor company computers even if they are not connected to the corporate network; employees only have to connect their computers to the Internet.

“Having a cloud-based PC management solution is huge for us,” says Derek Schauland, information technology manager at Briess. “With Windows Intune, I can provide earlier diagnosis and resolution, along with improved security.” And with the Windows Intune asset tracking features, Schauland can assess the company’s IT needs and forecast future spending more accurately. “I can use Windows Intune to gain insight into the systems, hardware, and applications used in our organization at any time,” says Schauland. “It’s helping me decide which IT investments to make-and when to make them.”

Think about what Windows Intune could mean for your business, especially if, like Briess, you have a large number of remote workers. Windows Intune helps you your PCs from virtually anywhere. You’ll have rock-solid endpoint protection from the latest security threats, and you will be able to keep your PCs up to date with the centrally managed deployment of Microsoft updates and service packs. And you’ll simplify the tracking of your IT assets and software licenses, enabling you to maximize your existing investments. What’s more, a Windows Intune subscription includes upgrade rights to the latest Windows operating system, including, of course, Windows 7 Enterprise. This means you can standardize your PC environment on the best Windows experience. In short, you’ll get an all-around solution that includes PC management, endpoint protection, and standardization on the Windows operating system of your choice, all with the reliability and affordability of a Microsoft cloud solution.

So there you have it: a quick overview of Microsoft SaaS solutions that can catapult your business into the catbird seat. Whether you need world-class CRM, state-of-the art productivity and collaboration, or iron-clad PC management and security, you owe it to yourself to investigate the flexible, reliable, and affordable cloud subscriptions from Microsoft.


Personal Device Management

by Ed Correia, President & CEO, Sagacent Technologies, Inc.



Looking back over my last three decades in computers (actually 34 years now), technology has come a very long way and changed a lot. I saw the introduction of the personal computer, the very first computer networks, email, the dawn of the Internet, only very recently Cloud computing – and now tons of personal mobile devices.

And these new personal devices are now making their way into nearly every business environment in a multitude of ways, but most concerningly as: USB memory sticks or jump drives, smart phones, laptops and tablet computers. These personally purchased and unmanaged devices are becoming integrated into business environments that already had business-purchased and securely managed laptops, smart phones and tablet PCs. In fact, many businesses are now encouraging their employees to BYOD – or Bring Your Own Device.

So now the business networks that we care for are quickly becoming networks of previously un-imanageable complexity. The world of technology is clearly changing again and my business must change too – and find solutions fast!

Our immediate challenges to be answered greatly center around MDM (or Mobile Device Management):

  • How do we manage business data on so many different devices?
  • How do we manage all of these devices, even those not actually owned by the company?
  • How to we protect the business data and isolate it from people and devices that are not authorized?
  • If required, how do we remove business data from a personal device without harming the personal data?
  • How do we then maximize the usability, function and productivity of these environments and all these new devices?

While a lot of people and vendors are already proposing products and solutions to address these issues, the truth is that no one knows all these answers – yet. But we are already attending industry conferences with peers, participating in online seminars, meeting with vendors and looking at lots and lots of products. Some of the early answers that we are sharing with clients today include:

  • Making business owners aware of these challenges and discussing options.
  • Establishing computer usage policies and acceptable use agreement for employees.
  • Only allowing personal devices access to company data if that device can be remotely managed and if required, remotely wiped of all company data.

Related, but not exclusive to managing personal mobile devices, we have been encouraging clients to allow us to initiate:

  • Regular automated remote backups of laptops.
  • Encryption of data or hard drives on laptop computers.
  • Purchase laptops, or programs for them, which allow the easy segregation of company-owned and personal data.

So change is nothing new for technology, and as usual, it is never boring – the answers are out there and we’ll find them for you.


The Future of Windows

written by David Tan, Chief Technology Office, CHIPS Technology Group LLC



Microsoft held their first ever Build Conference in Anaheim in September. It’s a new annual event for Windows developers to gather and learn about building applications for the Windows platform. This one was special not only because it was the first, but also because leading up to it, all the buzz was about how much of Windows 8 Microsoft would show and what details we would learn about the next version of the most popular operating system in the world.


Microsoft did not disappoint. They have showed demos, talked about features and functions, and even made an open beta immediately available to all who are interested to download, play with, and Microsoft hopes develop applications for. The buzz leading up to the conference has grown into a fever pitch with partners, developers, and customers all extremely excited about the next Windows release. What is it about this platform that Microsoft is doing right, and why is everyone so excited?

First off, Windows has a new look and feel. The next interface, dubbed “Metro” represents the single biggest change to the Windows interface since the additions of the Start button back in 1995. It has been completely revamped from the ground up. It is a radical departure. The traditional desktop and icons have been replaced by dynamic tiles. These tiles will not only allow you to interact with program, but will allow the applications to communicate with the user by surfacing key messages, data, or photos, depending on the needs.

Speaking of revamped, the operating system has been rebuilt from the ground up. According to Microsoft, this version requires about half the memory of Windows 7, allowing for things like longer battery life, and more importantly, much better performance on less powerful processors. This last point is very key. Microsoft’s vision is to have a single operating system that runs on all hardware platforms – phones, tablets, PCs, etc. More importantly, they are trying to enable developers to write a single version of an application that will work on anything, unlike their counterparts from Apple, which currently requires 3 different builds of a program to work across the entire Apple hardware universe. This philosophy will be extremely popular with developers and will no doubt help Microsoft gain market share in the smart phone and tablet space very rapidly.

Getting back to the interface for a minute, it looks like it was built from the ground up to be touch enabled. Microsoft is most definitely designing this operating system to work on the next generation of hardware – tablets and otherwise. Even though a commercial version of a Windows tablet will probably not be available till next year, Microsoft distributed 5,000 early version units at the Build Conference. Just a further effort to get developers working on building “Metro” versions of their applications as soon as possible. In addition to being designed for future hardware platforms, this operating system looks to be the first designed from a user-centric point of view. In other words, Microsoft finally took a page out of the Apple playbook and built a user interface with the user in mind. Working with it just feels really natural. There is no doubt it will be a considerable adjustment for most users, but I’m pretty confident from my early experiences that the changes will be wildly successful.

Microsoft still has a lot of work to do to catch Apple and Google in the mobile and tablet space. Windows 8 will be a giant leap in the right direction. Coupled with the fact that they already own the desktop space so dominantly, I think people will flock to the new version when they see what it can do. I’m fairly certain that Microsoft will be solidly second in that space at this time next year, passing Google’s Android platform without much problem. I also truly believe Apple will be firmly in their sites. If Windows 8 lives up to the early demos and hype, Microsoft is finally on the right track to establish a leadership position in this critical market space. Let’s hope this new “reimagined” Microsoft (as Steve Ballmer called them during his Build keynote) stays the course because that will be the best possible scenario for any business looking to expand their use of mobile and tablet devices going forward.