5 Reasons Why Telecommuting Is a Win-Win

On February 27, 2015, in Uncategorized, by Staff Contributor

Obviously ‘teleworking’ covers people like traveling sales operatives who’ve always worked that way, but an increasing number of tech and IT staff are spending their working lives outside the office too, with clerical and support staff not far behind. It’s a win-win situation that both companies and workers like.

You’d expect companies to hate telework and employees to love it. For employees, it means a couple of hours, at least, rescued from the daily commute, and a chance to work in their pyjamas or with the stereo up loud – not options at most people’s offices.

Problem is that Photoshop is far from inexpensive. A quick online scan will show that newer versions of this image-editing program can run higher than $600.

But don’t companies hate the idea of losing control over their employees? How can you check on a worker if they’re not even there? And doesn’t remote working lead to slackness?

Not everyone sees it that way. According to a report issued late last year, the US government now thinks about 47% of its employees – over a million people – are eligible for telecommuting. So what’s so great about it, and how is everyone a winner?

Telecommuting eliminates wasted time

Sure, some people work on the way to work. Most people sit in traffic, for an average of an hour each way. That’s wasted time for everyone, and telecommuting gives it back.

Telecommuting cuts costs for companies – but not wages for workers

Workers who work at home don’t need offices, cutting down on overheads – rent, heating, insurance and all the other costs associated with property. But they still make the same salary.

Remote workers are less stressed and more productive

Remote workers and in-office workers agree that teleworkers are less stressed, sleep more, drive less – and get more done. Less stress, more productivity? Win-win.

Absenteeism is a good thing

Americans work longer hours than any other industrialized country, but we don’t get more done. There’s a culture of ‘presenteeism’ – if you’re in the office early and late, you’re a good employee. ‘Part-timer’ is used as a slur. Get rid of that and ‘absent’ workers can be judged on their quality and productivity, not on how much time they spent on the job. That’s better for everyone.

Absent doesn’t mean out of reach

Much of the time in modern offices, people communicate by email, cloud or messaging services anyway. If you’re going to email someone, and get an email back, what difference does it make where they are? If you’re driving into work to open and reply to emails, doesn’t that defeat the point?

Teleworking means businesses spend less money and workers do more work, while workers have a better quality of life and more control over their working time.

 

Shadow IT, the use of unsanctioned cloud and mobile devices by staff, is a growing sector – but while the Bring Your Own Device philosophy has caught on fast, not everyone appreciates the risks to data and workflow it can bring.

When staff members begin to bring their own devices into work, it can spell positive changes for the IT world and a leap in efficiency for the company. Everyone’s using cloud and mobile instead of sometimes-clunky proprietary systems, and everyone can get on with what they need to do, wherever they are and whatever device they want to use. Sounds great, because it is.

There is one problem, though. Staff who don’t have IT training often don’t realise the security risks, so they’ll move data about over clouds or between devices without proper security measures.

Then there’s the risk to workflows. It’s great when everyone uses efficient cloud-based apps to do work, but what happens when it all comes together and none of the pieces fit because everyone’s used a different app, or a different spreadsheet format?

Finally there’s the problem of everyone using different distribution networks and a hundred different versions of a document getting passed around, because there’s no centralised system in place. So what can CIOs do about these problems?

Data security training

CIOs need to offer staff an appropriate level of security training so everyone understands that data has to be secure – company IT systems contain customer data, proprietary data, financial data and employee data and all this must be kept secure. Strong passwords, password protection on individual documents and an awareness of the porous nature of public clouds and mobile devices contribute to the success of secure shadow IT.

Workflows

Shadow IT can be great for the individual employee. But when staff bring documents that are in mutually unintelligible formats to the same meeting, everyone ends up sending a lot of time figuring out how to synch it all up. How to avoid this? Institute standardised workflow systems throughout the organization that can be accessed (securely!) through shadow IT.

Too many versions

Devices that rely on capacitive touch screens tend to have the sharpest image quality. Capacitive touch screens are coated with a material that sends a continuous electrical current across the sensor. Fortunately, the human body is also a type of electrical device. This means that when you touch the screen you absorb some of the current. The device registers this disruption, causing it to send information to its controller. The device will then perform the action that you requested.

Person 1 emails person 2 a document, who alters it and emails their version to person 3. Person 1 emails person 3 their version too. Which is the right one? Expand that process across time and multiple workflows companywide and you have a recipe for chaos. The solution is to build an efficient workflow structure that enables multiple people to access a single version of the document or spreadsheet and manipulate it without duplicating it, so there’s only one ‘version’.

In every case, the best thing CIOs can do is to start by accepting that shadow IT is here to stay and staff are going to use it. Then it’s about giving staff the tools and knowledge they need to use it effectively.

 

The Best 3 Alternatives to Basecamp

On February 20, 2015, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

Basecamp is 37Signals’ flagship project management software. Originally created as a tool to let freelancers manage projects, it’s gradually added functionality and customers until it’s now the most popular content management software solution out there.

It’s not all roses for Basecamp, though. Because it’s so simple, many people complain that even basic functions like the ability to assign tasks to multiple people or even time tracking, are absent. And unlike when Basecamp was first thought of, there’s some serious competition now.

1: ActiveCollab

ActiveCollab comes in web-based and self-hosted, and it has some pretty heavyweight customers, including Stanford University and the British BBC, as well as Adobe. It’s integrated with Xero for time tracking and invoicing, and starts at $25 a month for a package that gets you 5 users, 5GB of storage and unlimited projects. If you want unlimited users, projects and storage you can go up to the $299 per month premium package, and you can even buy an self-hosted version of the software for $499 and put it on your own servers.

2: Asana

Asana promises ‘teamwork without email’ (subtext: project management without Basecamp). It offers Google Drive integration, and the ability to forward emails to Asana and have it turned into a task automatically, and it also offers a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts to shave off seconds. Asana is free for the first 15 users and goes up to $50 per month for 16-30 users, and tops out at $800 for 100 users. There are unlimited projects and tasks, as well as private projects and teams.

3: Freedcamp

Freedcamp is designed to emulate Basecamp: it’s an alternative because it’s a free knock-off, ‘the closest free alternative you will ever get to Basecamp,’ in the company’s own words. Freedcamp is good enough to number ABC, Chase Bank and even Google among its customers, so its simple, Basecamp-like user interface and array of group communication tools that include a wall, browser alerts and social media integration means it’s basic but effective. In reality Freedcamp is only free if you’re happy with just 20MB of storage. If you want more, you’ll have to upgrade, to 1GB of storage for $2.49 per month or unlimited storage for $39.99 per month.

 

2014 was a killer year for innovative tech products – some of which represented improvements on existing technology, while others pointed ahead to whole new worlds. Here are the top X innovative tech products of 2014 – plus X to watch out for in the year ahead!

1: Virtual reality

If Oculus Crescent sounds like a transformer, that’s appropriate. The Oculus Crescent Cove VR headset is the latest offering from the virtual reality company Facebook bought for $2bn in 2014. VR has been a perpetual flop for tech companies, but Oculus might be the ones to make a go of it, especially now the graphics and other tech is in place to support it. And with Facebook’s reach behind it, we might be hearing a lot more about it in 2015. (Alternatively, Google Cardboard offers a different take on things…

2: Virtual currency

Bitcoin came of age in 2014, and mobile payment methods like Apple Pay and similar offerings from Google and Paypal are set to make us forget, not only cash, but physical payment of any kind, even credit cards. Being able to pay directly with a smartphone sounds pretty innovative now, but by next year, it might just be normal.

3: The best of everything, ever

Apple made a desktop with the best screen ever, its near-15-million-pixel, 27 – inch iMac Retina display. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 has the best screen that’s ever been in a smartphone. And the iPhone 6 has the best camera ever put in a smartphone, while Android got enough of a reboot to make it a serious contender. Even already extant technologies got way better in 2014.

4: And for my next trick…

What does the coming year have up its sleeve?

Microsoft is releasing Windows 10, designed as a multiplatform OS that will work on smartphones, laptops, desktops, and even the Xbox. It’s also got a bundled browser that isn’t Internet Explorer!

Samsung expects to be able to ship a bendable phone by the end of the year. The company foresees mass-producing flexible displays before the end of 2015. And, finally, hot on the heels of the world’s largest iPad comes… a really huge, 12-inch iPad, the iPad Pro, blurring the line between laptops and tablets.

 

What if that’s your last phone?

On February 13, 2015, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

The ubiquity of mobile phone technology makes the idea that you could be holding your last ever phone seem slightly ridiculous. Barring catastrophes, why would we suddenly stop using a technology we so evidently love? Because we basically already have.

What is a phone exactly?

We still call the devices we use so much ‘phones,’ but it’s increasingly obvious that the difference between a phone, a phablet and a tablet is… whatever manufacturers can get us to say it is. The device you can send your emails from, browse the web via apps or browsers or both, take pictures and communicate via instant message services, will also let you make voice calls. And that’s about all it has in common with the old cord-and-handset machines we used to call phones. (Speaking of which, as of 2013, about 30% of Americans didn’t have a landline at all!)
What do we actually use our phones for?

The telephone is for talking to people. But increasingly, that doesn’t describe our phones at all. what we actually do with them is move data. And the amount we’re moving is huge and growing.

Something else that seems to be huge and growing is the phones themselves, and the same cause is at the root of both effects. That would be the 4G technology known as LTE. LTE lets you move gigantic quantities of data over 4G networks, but it’s energy-hungry. Hence the size of phones, which are growing to accommodate bigger batteries in back and bigger screens in front.

Even when you do make a phone call, it’s not really a phone call

You talk into a phone and your voice is turned into electronic signals and transmitted. That was true when you had to wind phones up and it’s still true. but the way it’s done has changed fundamentally. 3G and older cell networks used dedicated connections to move your voice: virtual landlines, preserving the phone-ness of phone calls. But 4G and LTE don’t do that. Your voice becomes data packets, just like the rest of the internet. Even when you make a phone call, you’re really using a technology that has more in common with Facetime or Skype than with anything Alexander Graham Bell would have recognised. You might already have had your last phone.

 

The 3D Printer That Makes Custom Electronics

On February 11, 2015, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

Could anything be more Zeitgeisty than a 3D printer that can produce things to fit into the Internet of Things?

The first generation of 3D printers are mostly used for producing small items. But Jennifer Lewis of Harvard University has helped create a new kind of 3D printer, one that can print electronics.

The Voxel8 printer

Voxel8 only bega developing a product last year, but the printer is the result of more than 8 years of research by Ms. Lewis and her Harvard colleagues. Right now, it can’t quite print things as sophisticated as a smartphone. But it is able to make quite complex gadgets, like helicopter drones.

The printer costs about $10, 000 and is aimed firmly at professionals, not the domestic market. Currently, Voxel8 is trying to get feedback from designers to optimize the product for them.

Talking about the future of manufacturing

The Voxel8 team foresees their technology being used around the world. Ms. lewis says that in the next decade, ‘rather than shipping components, you are going to be shipping CAD (Computer Aided Design) files and then you’re going to have local centers of manufacturing excellence, where these CAD files are just ported and then directly products come out.’

Until now 3D printers have largely been used by hobbyists. That doesn’t mean they’re not being used industrially – in China, they’re 3D printing houses, and in the USA and Europe car parts and, notoriously, firearms are getting the treatment too. But 3D printing is especially good for electronics.

Why are Voxel8 betting on a 3D future for electronics?

Voxel8’s co-founder, Daniel Oliver, says, ‘for 3D printing to push the limits of what’s done now, it has to solve key issues that current manufacturing technologies don’t.’ For electronics, that’s the duality of the circuitry and the physical object. Currently, electronic circuit boards are manufactured in standard shapes and sizes and the designer’s job is to fit them into the product. With 3D printing technology, the device and its electronics can be manufactured at the same time.

 

Top 3 Cyber Security Risks for 2015

On February 6, 2015, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

2014 saw an explosion of concern about cybersecurity, as more and more of life moves online – especially financial life. When big companies and even government agencies were hacked and millions of people’s details were leaked, we all sat up and took notice. But what form will the dangers of cyberspace take in the year ahead?

Cybersecurity is a major mainstream issue. Hacking experts warn that 2014 was the beginning of a new arms race between legitimate web users, companies and even governments, and ever-more-sophisticated hackers on the other. 2015 will see traditional cybercrime like internet password fraud continue, but there will also be brand new threats to accompany new technology.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things is the name given to the web of communicating smart devices that will increasingly predominate in our homes and workplaces. When the toaster talks to the fridge and the doorbell communicates with the garage door, that’s great – but it’s great for hackers, too. John Nesbitt is the founder of Cyber Senate, a council of the world’s cybersecurity business leaders. His group believes that ‘the IoT presents unique security challenges in terms of the number of connected devices present,’ and that makes it ‘the main cybersecurity risk for 2015.’

In fact, it’s possible that many of the Things in the IoT have already been hacked – or come ‘pre-hacked’ with spychips. In any case, they’re far from secure: ‘we have sacrificed security for efficiency,’ concludes Mr. Nesbitt.

Cyber-espionage

Governments, non-governmental organizations and other groups are already busily engaged in cyber espionage, including data gathering as well as hacking and other activities. Non-governmental political groups are already players in this game – witness the Syrian Electronic Army’s antics in 2014.

McAffee’s ‘2015 Threat Predictions’ document warns that cyber-espionage attacks are likely to increase in frequency in 2015 and that ‘newcomers will look for ways to steal money and disrupt their adversaries,’ while the information-gathering behind the scenes will become more sophisticated.

Cyber theft

It’s almost certain that cyber theft will rise in 2015, for two interconnected reasons. One is that more people will do more business online. The other is that an increasing proportion of those will be relative novices who lack good cyber-security habits and knowledge.

Some of the risk is out of consumers’ hands, too. In many cases, ‘the payment technology used won’t protect against retailers who aren’t storing payment card data securely, and they will still need to be vigilant in protecting stored data,’ says Symantec Security’s Candid Wüest.

 

Sometimes it’s useful to store public-facing data in the cloud. When that’s necessary, it’s typically done inside the web application by the end user. They’ll upload their pictures, video or other content quite happily using the app. In that case, there’s no real need for an admin to get involved. But when an admin does need to get involved, the best way is often to go forward by taking a step back.

If you’re a systems administrator looking for a way to manipulate content the best choice might just be an FTP client. Remember those? In the bad old days before Adobe Muse and other design software started letting you just upload whole websites in the click of a button, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) clients were how things got onto the web. And if you have cloud data you need to get right into and manipulate by hand, they deserve a second look. In particular, Cyberduck merits your attention.

Cyberduck is available in over 30 languages. You can get it for Windows or OSX, and it supports a whole range of FTPs. Standard FTP is in there, and so is SSH FTP, as well as WebDAV, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, and Openstack Swift. That means that if you’re a user of Rackspace Cloud, HP Cloud, Internap, or any cloud storage systems that use Openstack, you can use Cyberduck. And Google’s Cloud Storage meshes with S3 protocols, so you can connect there too.

Getting set up

After you install Cyberduck – and Bonjour, if you’re a Windows user; it’s optional, but not necessary – click ‘Open Connection.’ You’ll get a drop-down, and from there you can select the protocol you want to configure. Copy and paste your credentials to be allowed access to the system you’re connecting to and click ‘Connect.’ You’ll get a password prompt, and FTP users will get a warning that their password will be sent in plaintext – unencrypted. You can bookmark servers during a session so they’re easy to return to for future sessions.

Manipulating files

You can upload and download files with a simple drag and drop. There’s a queue manager for batch upload files and you can view the progress of those uploads. Click the ‘Get Info’ button and you’ll be given the option to manage attributes, and you’ll also be able to configure data on traditional web servers so it can be distributed with Amazon CloudFront, Memset Memstone and Akamai. You can edit files through an external editor, and upload revisions from a temporary stored file.

What about security?

Cyberduck stands out from other FTP clients because its FTP functionality is actually the least important part of what it can do. It also stands out because the majority of FTP clients aren’t great for security, but Cyberduck is. You’re constantly being reminded that standard FTP means your passwords and other data are being sent unencrypted. That’s because FTP was introduced in the 1970s, before encryption was seen as a major issue and certainly before SSL. But FTP continues to be offered on many servers anyway. Many traditional FTP clients leave no alternative, and the best you can usually hope for is SSH FTP. Instead of these limited options, Cyberduck gives cloud access, offering better security too.