Getting Ahead of the Internet of Things

On March 27, 2015, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

IT techs need to be ready when the IoT lands. It’s estimated that well over 20bn devices will be a part of the IoT, ranging from consumer goods like toasters to complex sensor arrays in smart homes and vehicles. The volume of data created by this network will be gigantic, requiring a rethink from organizations in terms of how they view, manage, store, and even think about data.

Getting Ready for IoT

Over the next decade, the growth in the number of IoT networks will be very large and very fast. Every industry vertical will be involved, because no-one will be able to afford to turn down the benefits associated with IoT. Its effects will be felt everywhere from manufacturing to healthcare, sometimes in unpredictable ways.

Re-evaluate Database Architecture and Data Management Strategies

Right now, most companies have a core database that houses transactional data. IoT data won’t replace that, but it won’t behave the same way either. Look for solutions that will support multiple deployment scenarios. Your database technology should be capable of scaling up and down, to be device-agnostic while having the potential to accommodate a huge amount of data.

Remember: Not Every Database Will Cope With IoT

You need to select a database that’s built to cope with the volume, velocity and variety of data that’s going to come to you from IoT sources. Time-series and geospatial-oriented databases will cope far better than general purpose databases.

Deploy Data Management Technology

Consider the potential value of deploying data management technology both within the network and on its borders. As the volume of data generated by IoT networks grows this is likely to become an unavoidable necessity, and those enterprises that implement data management, processing, and analysis will have a significant advantage in that, while they might not have more data than their competitors, they will have more useable data.

There’s More to IoT Than Coping With The Data

At first glance, IoT seems to offer one main challenge: how to cope with all that data. But how well companies emerge from the early days of IoT is going to depend more on how they respond to some other challenges, including the access IoT will grant to new markets and new applications within existing markets. As the number of devices capable of gathering and sharing data grows, so more and more enterprises will find it cost-effective to leverage the increase.


Why BYOD Has a Bright Future

On March 25, 2015, in Business Technology, by Staff Contributor

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – was an incipient trend in 2014, but it’s expected to fully breach the mainstream in the year ahead as enterprises learn how to make the most of it.

BYOD Teething Troubles

BYOD faced some troubles starting out. The trend comes with some privacy concerns, since workers naturally tend to take their own devices home with them and connect them to non-work-approved networks. There was even a major lawsuit in California that, by ruling that company workers for the ri use of their own devices, seemed to presage the end of the BYOD trend. What really happened was that the trend went from strength to strength as other technologies and techniques caught up with it. 2015 looks set to be the year when it enters the mainstream for good.


BYOD makes sense in a world where enterprises are decentralising everything from IT to workforces. An increasing number of white collar workers – just the people most likely to bring their own tablet into work – are independent contractors rather than employees. They’ll take their own devices with them from gig to gig, allowing companies to hire workers and working equipment at the same time rather than acquiring hardware.


As data increasingly moves onto the cloud, public, private or hybrid, the privacy concerns over BYOD become less prominent. BYOD is a natural fit for cloud. And when everything from data to unified communications, calendaring to email, is cloud-based, the importance of the device used to access it recedes. Privacy concerns about sensitive company data stored on someone’s iPhone also recede, for the same reason.


While companies figure out what to do about BYOD, it’s already happening. Many companies have adopted a ‘if they want to, let them’ attitude to worker-led BYOD adoption. The longer an ‘unofficial BYOD’ policy persists, the more likely a data breach is, but by the time it comes, it’s going to be almost impossible to get rid of BYOD.

Hybridization and Split Billing

Many companies are going to wind up with mixed BYOD/CYOD policies. Senior staff will be using BYOD while lower-level employees will be on a more secure CYOD setup. Data accessible to both via the cloud will mean the main division will be between high-ranking salespeople and C-level staff, and the rest of the company.

BYOD is so underreported that the chances are that it’s not just coming, but really is already here. And this year, it’s going to take over.


Peak App: Do We Really Need More?

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

The phrase ‘there’s an app for that’ has achieved the ultimate in internet acceptance – it’s a hashtag and a meme. It’s also increasingly true – apps have proliferated at a massive rate. But does that mean there are now too many, and should you think of building one?

Apps are the lifeblood of mobile internet, and they’re among the fastest growing sectors anywhere in the economy, so it’s hardly surprising that a lot of people want to get in on the action. But it’s not always a good idea to become an app creator.

Apps are an explosively growing sector. Between January and November 2014, Google Play, Amazon Appstore and iOS App Store each grew by more than 50%. And it’s part of a long term trend going back to at least 2010. iOS App Store is worth 10 times what it was then, and in 2014, iOS App Store sold $10 bn worth of apps. Maybe that’s why the three big players now have 1, 024, 000 developers working on apps between them – over half of whom work at Google.

All of which sounds like a digital gold rush. Why wouldn’t you want some of that?

Apps take up 86% of a typical mobile web user’s online time. That sounds like another fabulous stat showing why apps are the market to get into. But it’s actually deceptive. It sounds like, if you’re an app maker, you’re competing for 86% of a mobile user’s attention.

The reality, though, is that if you don’t make games, which account for 32% of app time, you’ll struggle. Facebook and social messaging account for another 27% of app time, leaving 41% to play for. Twitter, YouTube and utilities absorb another 18%, leaving just 23% of app time actually in play. That’s spread across an average of 26 apps used on a monthly basis. If you’re one of them, you’re competing for less than a percent of the typical user’s time.

What will that competition look like? In an increasingly frantic marketplace, it will often look like financial outlay. Each app download costs the developer an average of $1.30, but some run far higher, as much as $70 in some cases. And half the users you acquire this way will be gone in just three months.

None of this is a reason not to build an app: some apps are massively successful, and plenty that aren’t are providing value for their users and profits for their developers. But it is a good reason to think about whether you need an app – and to reconsider search. Mobile search has been eclipsed by consideration of that 86% figure – but in fact, as we’ve just seen, a new app developer is competing for just 5% of the average mobile user’s internet time, as against the 14% accounted for by browsing.


So Microsoft Office isn’t exactly a hot new app. In fact, you probably have it open in the background right now, right? And no doubt, you feel like over the past million years you’ve been using it, you’ve figured out how to use it pretty well. But there are shortcuts and tips that can save you hours of time – and they’re not always obvious, even to experienced users.

Microsoft Office is kind of like what John Lennon said about life: it’s the application you use while you’re busy making other plans. That means it isn’t very glamorous. But most people who sit down at a keyboard for a living will be using Office most days. Let’s look at some ways to cut corners, trim fat and boost performance. You can even use Office for things you’ve been opening other programs for!

1: Remove the Background From An Image

You can remove the background to an image in MS Office. Here’s how:
first, select the image and click the contextual Format tab in Picture Tools. Go to the Adjust options, select Color and choose Set Transparent Color. Then click on the image, and like that… no more background.

2: Select By Style

In MS Word, you can find text by selecting it by style. That’s especially useful if you want to check all your subheadings, titles and so on. Click the dialog launcher for the Styles group, then right-click the style you want to locate instances of. You’ll be asked to confirm that you want all instances of that style, and told how many there are, in the drop-down.

3: Close Docs, Not Apps

If you want to keep Word open when you close your last document, press [Ctrl]+[F4] when you close the last document. The document will close, but the application will remain open.

4: Quickly Select Rows and Columns in Excel

There’s a keyboard shortcut to quickly select rows and columns in Excel. To select the current column, press [Ctrl]+[spacebar]. To expand the rows, it’s [up arrow] and [down arrow], without releasing the [Ctrl] key. To select the current row, press [shift]+[spacebar]. To expand the columns, it’s [right arrow] and [left arrow] without releasing the [shift] key.

5: Nudge to Budge in PowerPoint

Sometimes you want to move an object in PowerPoint without dragging it. We’ve all had the problem where just picking it up to drag it moves it too far and sends you running to that old favorite among-st Office shortcuts, [Ctrl]+[Z]. Nudging can be the answer here. Select the object, then hold down [Ctrl] and press the appropriate arrow key. You’ll see the object move a tiny amount, enough to fine-tune your layout.


The secrets of YouTube

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

YouTube has come a long way from its origins as a place to look at kittens and home videos of people’s dogs. There’s a multimillion dollar industry based around it, a new generation of media stars who got their start on the channel and its connection with Google and its ubiquity, to say nothing of how easy it is to embed, mean it gets a lot of use for business purposes too.

With that in mind, you’re probably not getting the very best out of your Youtube experience. Here are a few ways to get the normal stuff done faster – and a couple of tricks you probably didn’t even know were possible!

1: Space Bar

Most of us know that the space bar is play/pause on YouTube. If you want to watch something in slow motion, though, hold the space bar down! This is really useful for detailed how-tos.

2: Jump Around!

J jumps you back 10 seconds in the video. L jumps you forward 10 seconds. No mouse required. You can also use K as play/pause, if you’re watching a video entitled ‘how repair space bar.’

The arrow keys fast forward and rewind, and the number keys jump to percentage locations in the video: 1 is 10%, 5 50%, 0 the beginning.

These don’t work in fullscreen mode, by the way.

3: Lean Back!

…is the name of an app that allows you to turn YouTube into a keyboard-only experience with a totally new interface that can be conveniently browsed with only the arrow keys and ‘enter.’ This doesn’t seem to work on Macs, though.

4: Do What You Feel!

YouTube has a hidden feature called Moodwall (yes,I’m aware that we’re moving away from tricks that are useful in the enterprise, but I thought you’d want to know). Moodwall lets you select your mood from a sidebar. YouTube then shows you videos appropriate to your mood. If you disagree, double click on the mood you chose, and the videos will all change.

5: Ride the Snake

OK, so now we’re moving from ‘not useful in the enterprise’ to ‘not useful at all,’ and it’s also not really a secret – it’s even on YouTube’s Wikipedia page. On any video you’re watching, pause it and hold down the left or right arrow key for a few seconds. Then press the up arrow key to start the game, and hey presto! Your computer and YouTube together have created the ‘snake’ game that made Nokia owners the world over miss public transportation throughout the early 2000s.


2014 was the year of the leaky, hacked, unsecure internet – the year we all came face to face with the fact that our details aren’t safe. And that harsh lesson really didn’t sink in. Most hacking is done through old-fashioned channels like email fraud, but when passwords are leaked, it often turns out there was no need, to judge by some of these.

Password management firm SplashData released its list of last year’s worst passwords,and they’re exactly as bad as you can imagine. The company got its data by analysing the 3 million or so passwords that were leaked last year, and arranged them in league order of most to least common. Of course, the more common your password the easier it is to guess – but when it’s both really common and really weak, it makes you wonder why hackers bother to steal it when they could just guess.

The top 5 offenders

These are the 5 most common leaked passwords of 2014:

1: 123456
2: password
3: 12345
4: 12345678
5: qwerty

Yes, seriously.

Lessons to learn

First, never ask IT why your password has to be 14 characters long!
Second, look at what these characters did and do the opposite to create a strong password.

These passwords all display a total lack of thought. Faced with a decision – which password? – these people tapped a few keys without thinking it through at all. So, consider: any keys that are already next to each other on the keyboard are a bad choice, so is a long numerical sequence like ‘1234.’ And ‘password’? Also not good.

Widen the net: your name? Out. Your company’s name? Also a bad choice. And if you live in LA, ‘Lakers’ isn’t too great either. What unites these bad choices is that they’re easy to guess if someone knows one other thing about you. For the same reason, your partner or children’s names aren’t good choices.

Creating a strong password

Strong passwords are strong because they’re really hard to guess. Using things like the letter ‘3’ for ‘e’ or the number ‘4’ for the word ‘for’ are now predictable. Instead use a password using unconnected words with symbols, caps and numbers scattered throughout. It’s also a good idea to have a different password for each account: having the same keys for car, garage, house and office obviously spells trouble, and the same logic applies here.


5 Projects IT Pros Need to Stop Putting Off

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

Anyone who’s ever seen an Eisenhower square knows how easy it is to do urgent-but-unimportant stuff today, and put off important-but-non-urgent stuff until tomorrow. We all do it. The danger with that approach is that projects that are actually vital are always on tomorrow’s to-do list – never today’s. Here are 5 IT projects it’s time to shunt up the list to job #1.

1: Software updates – especially in end devices

Increasingly, inhouse IT departments are moving towards a ‘push’ model of updating software, one that distributes software updates to devices on the network from a central point. But that transition’s far from over and in some IT departments it’s still necessary to physically go out and update software. If the machines that need updating are in distant corners of the company buildings IT can end up supporting four different releases of the same software.

2: Job descriptions

Jobs exist now that didn’t even two years ago. Go back six years and the landscape has changed unrecognizably. But when’s the last time job descriptions in your department were updated? Go back over them and make sure they’re up to date or you’ll find that when you need to know who’s in charge of cloud issues or social media outreach it turns out that officially, no-one is.
3: Spare parts and old equipment
Below the top layer, there’s probably equipment in the back room for repairing external dial-up modems, spare 5½” floppy disk drives and a couple telegraph keys near the back. It makes sense to keep this equipment to cannibalize it for spare parts or in case it’s needed, but unless you’re building a steampunk laptop in your spare time some of this stuff just needs to go. Getting round to this job isn’t always easy, but managing it at least once a yea shouldn’t be too hard.

4: Asset inventorying

Asset inventorying software has been on the market for a decade or more, but many IT pros still don’t have a clear understanding of how many of their servers are idle or underutilized. An asset inventory can identify these and help you decide whether there’s slack in the system or whether you’re running servers that just can’t cope with modern demands and need to be replaced.

5: Vendor agreements

IT departments are often missing something vital, despite all that spare equipment: contracts. Many are short as many as a third of all the contracts that cover their agreements with their vendors. If these are missing, ask vendors for copies and check what they cover. Your relationship with the vendor may have changed, or the type of provision on offer might have moved with the times. Make sure your contracts are complete and up-to-date.


Google Drive started out as simply an online viewer for docs and spreadsheets. Now, it’s evolved into a full-blown online office suite. And just like desktop office suites, many of us don’t know how to use it to its full potential. PDFs remain one of the most popular document formats but they can be hard to manipulate. Drive can help.

Save to Drive, straight from Chrome

Google’s own-brand browser is already a pretty solid PDF viewer. But did you know you can save web pages as PDFs directly from Chrome to Drive?

Click on the ‘printer’ icon in the bottom right corner (you have to be logged into Chrome), then scroll down to the ‘Google cloud print’ section and click on ‘Save to Google Drive.’ Done!

Search text from PDFs with OCR

OCR is Optical Character Recognition, and you can use it to search PDFs in Google Drive. Right click on a PDF and select ‘open in Google Docs,’ then save i in Google Docs. Bingo: you have a searchable document of your PDF content.

Export any Doc to PDF format

In any document on Google Drive that you’d like as a PDF, simply click ‘file,’ then ‘download,’ and select ‘PDF document. Done! And if you synch it immediately by saving it to the local Google Drive folder you won’t even have to manually upload the file back into Google Drive.

Scan to PDF with Google Drive’s mobile app

It’s frustratingly Android-only, but Google’s mobile Drive app is still impressive. It allows you to scan handwritten notes or pages from books (copyright, people), and automatically detects page edges and optimises contrast to bring out the text. Once you’ve taken the picture, there are editing options: select the plus sign in the lower left corner of the app screen and you can collate several scanned pages into a single PDF, then move onto the ‘check mark’ symbol to save the whole thing to Google Drive.

Manipulate PDFs in Drive with add-ons

Google Drive is partly so great because of what i can do, and partly because of what it can do with other apps. So if you want to split PDFs up, try PDFSplit! Open your PDF in Drive, then look in ‘open with,’ and select PDFSplit! From there you can break a PDF up any way you like and resave the pieces. Want to merge PDFs instead? Use PDF Mergy. Select your PDFs, right click them, then hover over ‘open with’ and select PDF Mergy. Finally, PDF is a popular format for forms and contracts, and it’s useful to be able to sign a PDF. HelloSign and DocuSign both plug easily into Drive and let you import or draw your signature into a PDF.