Nashville IT Services

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

What a Nashville Azure Consultant Can Do For You

nashville azure consultant

Atiba is Nashville’s Leading Azure Consultant

Originally published December 24, 2019. Updated October 21, 2020.

Do you have your head in the clouds lately? For those looking at cloud migration services, you’ve probably had your head stuck in the clouds for more than a few weeks now.

That’s OK, we often have our head stuck in the cloud as well.

One of the hardest steps is determining which cloud service you’re going to choose. The main players in the business are Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and Google Cloud Platform. For businesses, you want to make sure you choose one and stick with it. After all, that’s where all of your business data and information is going to be stored. Plus, you’re going to want the added security now that your employees are working from home in their pajamas.

As die-hard computer nerds, our crew at Atiba likes them all!  All three provide similar services and all three have proven to be reliable and cost-effective.

But, we’ve found a lot of people like to go with Azure. Not just because it has a cool name (OK, maybe that’s part of the reason). Below, we’re going to run over what makes Azure so great and what you need for a Nashville Azure consultant.

Our Favorite Things About Microsoft’s Azure

nashville azue consulting

Azure is Highly Secure

We’d be lying if we said we weren’t looking forward to using that rhyme all day.

In a nutshell, Azure is the most secure cloud platform out there. Microsoft prides itself on having a secure model and uses a Detect, Assess, Diagnose, Stabilize, and Close model. Maybe a bit too long for a catchy title, but the proof is in the pudding with how secure their service is.

Azure takes extra steps into protecting your data from unauthorized access, including Microsoft personnel. In a world where data is a commodity and big tech companies are often under the microscope for what they do with your data, it’s reassuring to know that Microsoft is taking the step to leave your data in your hands.

One feature we really like is the Customer Lockbox. It’s a way for you and your clients to upload and securely download documents. It’s better than sending things over email or meeting in a sketchy alley

Top-Notch Scalability

Those who have been browsing cloud options have no doubt come across this word. What exactly does it mean?

Let’s say that your business is running reports daily and 25 out of the 30 days of the month, these reports are normal and require minimal computing power. However, on those other five days, you notice a huge uptick in reporting which requires an influx of computer power.

Azure really shines here and makes it incredibly simple to scale your computer power depending on your needs. Just how easy do they make it? You only have to click a button. That’s it.

While some of Microsoft’s other tools may not be as flashy or simple to the everyday user, Azure makes it easy for you to scale your power based on your business needs.

Extremely Low Downtime

Think about the last time your internet went out. Even if it was just for five minutes, it was annoying and a pain. We rely so much on technology and we need our devices and items to be working all the time.

Azure goes a step further and offers a service level agreement, or SLA, guaranteeing 99.95% of uptime over the course of the year. For those keeping track at home, that’s about 4.5 hours of downtime for the entire year or only 40 seconds for every day. About the same amount of time that it takes us to daydream about our dream vacation.

That’s because Microsoft has data centers all around the globe, meaning that their services are guaranteed to be up and running whenever you need them.

Cost-Effectiveness

It’s all about the money, right?

We know that IT costs can skyrocket if left unwatched and a bill can come out of nowhere to surprise you (oh yeah, we did sign up for that service).

Another reason Azure has been a favorite with many of our clients is that it offers a pay-as-you-go pricing option. This means that small and medium-sized businesses can finetune their budgets and only use as much of the cloud as they need to.

Plus, costs can be reduced because both customer applications and internal apps can be launched in the cloud. This will save money on IT infrastructure while also lowering any costs of hardware and overall maintenance.

Why Your Business Needs a Nashville Azure Consultant

With all of those benefits, why do you need to hire a Nashville Azure consultant? While we love Azure, it does come with some drawbacks. That’s where we come in. As leading Azure consultants in the Nashville area, we provide a number of different services.

It Requires Expertise

Although Azure does have some easy parts, getting the most out of Azure does require significant platform expertise. In order to make sure that everything is working together efficiently, you do need a consultant to maximize your platform.

One of the most common rookie mistakes we see is administrators over-provisioning their cloud services. This can lead to a huge financial setback for a business, oftentimes in the thousands of dollars range. Since Azure is used by so many small and medium-sized businesses, those extra costs are burdens you don’t want to pay for.

It Requires Consistent Management

Unfortunately, Azure isn’t as plug-and-play as other services out there and requires consistent management, especially when working with a large number of end-users.

Azure, like most other cloud services, requires regular patching and server monitoring. Does this mean that you need someone monitoring it 24/7? No, of course not, but it helps to have someone be managing your cloud on a consistent basis.

Atiba Can Serve as Your Azure Consultant

As you can see, there are lots of reasons why you want to go with Azure. Its scalability, cost-effectiveness, and high levels of security make it one of the best cloud service options for all types of businesses. If you’re looking to get set up with Azure or just want to know more, feel free to reach out to Atiba. We offer the best Azure consulting services in Nashville and have been working with various businesses for nearly thirty years.

Not only are we Azure experts, but we also pride ourselves on same-day response time. We offer 24/7 support and 1-hour response time on critical issues.

Interested in learning more or want to see how we can help? Reach out for a free quote today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ransomware: A Real Threat in the Digital World

ransomware

Shadowy figures, cryptic notes, demands for money, a ticking clock, and absolute terror. With a recipe like that, it’s no wonder the ransom plot has been a Hollywood film trope for decades. But as fun as it is to watch in a theater, ransom plots are crippling when they’re real.

And in the modern digital world, they play out most often as hacker programs that steal data and access to critical systems before demanding payment….or else. Threats to expose confidential information or to destroy networks happen more frequently than you may think to large and small organizations around the world.

Ransomware attacks can bring a business to its knees overnight. Hackers exploit employees or unprotected systems, worm their way into the digital infrastructure of a business, then hold data or access hostage until a ransom is paid. Over the past decade ransomware attacks worldwide have grown tremendously

The Cost of Ransomware Attacks

Just how much are hackers demanding from businesses? According to a 2017 report, the average cost of a ransomware attack was just over $700,000. Many small and medium-sized businesses simply can’t afford such an attack.

Even if businesses can survive, there will likely be certain sacrifices that have to be made and it could take the business years to recover, if at all.

The City of Atlanta’s Ransomware Attack

While that number might be shocking, take the 2017 attack on Atlanta as an example. In March of 2018, the City of Atlanta was hit with SamSam malware. It devastated city systems, including court scheduling, online bill payments, police dash-cam video, and even wi-fi systems. The attackers demanded a payment in bitcoin that equaled about $52,000. Mayor Kisha Lance Bottoms refused to pay, opting instead to rebuild the systems at a cost estimated somewhere around $2.6 million

In the months and years since the attack, Atlanta has instituted security protocols and systems enhancements to avoid future attacks. But if organizations with data as critical as city governments like Atlanta are vulnerable, it seems almost anyone is. The same malware that hit Atlanta, SamSam, hit 200 other victims as well, extorting over $30 million in Bitcoin from their victims. And that’s just one malware group. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of others. 

Ransomware Payments Can Put You in Legal Trouble

If someone is holding information and you’ve exhausted every option, you might think about just paying the amount of money and getting it over with. If you’re going down that road, then you may want to think twice.

Recently, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a special advisory to companies that pay ransom during an attack. Specifically, the advisory warned that victims and any third parties who assist in payment could be in violation of federal law. Even if you do so unintentionally, there may be sanctions headed your way.

You can check out the advisory here.

A Global Problem

In a May 2020 report by Verizon, there were over 6,800 global attacks on public organizations with over six thousand of those considered large attacks. The same report totaled all cyberattacks in 2019 over 32,000 globally, or once every 16 minutes.

It’s a fool’s game to think “oh, this could never happen to me”. What can be done to protect your systems from ransomware? 

How to Protect Against Ransomware

computer-security

The good news is, some steps can protect you, your systems, and your business.

  1. Systems
    • Backups
    • Blocks
    • UTD
  2. People
    • Phishing
    • Access
    • Password Management 

Systems

Let’s start with what you can do to fortify systems. There are steps you can take to ensure your systems aren’t laid bare by design and management practices, leaving them easy targets for hackers.

Backups

Let’s start with the importance of a well-designed and well-maintained backup system. Why start there? Because even if everything else goes wrong with your plan, a backup might be your last ray of hope if you’re impacted with an attack. So if you do nothing else, set up a backup process. 

What’s a good backup process? It should include your most important business data. It should run often. And you should consider a trustworthy, cloud solution. 

What’s your most important business data? If a hacker contacted you tomorrow threatening to destroy or make data public, what data would you think of first? What customer data do you have that if exposed or lost would jeopardize your customers or your business? That’s your sensitive data. Your business depends on it and you likely have an obligation (likely a legal one) to protect and manage that data. 

Your backup should run often. Whether that’s hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly is up to your business needs. But the more often it can run, the better. The frequency of your backups will depend on the backup solution you choose and the costs associated with the backup process (automated or manual).

As you find the right solution for you, make sure you ask how backups happen and when they occur. The more information you backup, the better.

Cloud Solutions

Cloud solutions have become widely available, affordable, and trusted over the years because they add layers of protection that on-premise solutions just can’t match. If your data is important enough to store, you want a solution that’s scalable and protected from any physical threat your systems could experience.

A reputable cloud solution is often competitively priced, easy to implement (even if you need some help), and offers more security than other options. 

Barriers 

protect-your-business

There’s a reason yards have fences, castles have moats, and China built a wall. Barriers thwart attacks. The harder you make it for hackers to access your data, the less likely it is they’ll get it.

Installing firewalls, anti-virus software, and VPNs for employees are all effective and affordable measures to protect yourself. Don’t leave your doors open to threats. 

And that also means you should know where your network boundaries are. Know what’s connected to your network and ensure that connections are monitored and regulated. Consider working with a network management professional to ensure that you’ve intentionally designed and managed your systems. 

Updates

It’s tempting to hit “remind me later” when those update pop-ups interrupt your work. Sometimes it’d be better to have a “go away and never come back” button. But updates, patches, and fixes pushed to you for a reason. 

In 2017 the WannaCry attack hit high profile targets using Microsoft Windows including Britain’s National Health Service with an encryption program. Before the attacks began, Microsoft identified the vulnerability in their system and released a patch. But because patches were not installed promptly, many users were left vulnerable and were subsequently attacked. 

Providers diligently monitor for vulnerabilities that hackers could use to attack customers. Knowing that the reputation of their products is threatened by hackers, providers work hard to create patches, updates, fixes to protect their users. Ignoring those system updates leaves your systems vulnerable. 

Update your systems. You probably have one that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Why not quickly check after you finish reading?

People

Hackers know that systems are only part of your business. They know that your team has access to systems and data and that they can be compromised as well. Ensuring that your team does their part in protecting against ransomware is crucial. 

Phishing

We all know by now that you shouldn’t give your bank account information to any princes from remote parts of the globe with poor grammar and offers of shared fortunes. We know that emails and other forms of unsolicited contact requesting sensitive and personal information are red flags for malicious attacks known as phishing. 

In other words, it’s bad guys dangling an offer in an attempt to snag an unsuspecting (usually well-intended) victim to gain access or data. It’s cybercrime and a common tool used by ransomware attackers. 

While phishing emails have seen a small decline in the past few years, the trend towards remote work seems to have ushered a re-emergence of the tactic

A few easy ways to avoid falling for a phishing attack: 

  1. Don’t open emails from senders you don’t recognize or email addresses that seem off. 
  2. Don’t send personal information through email. Just don’t. 
  3. Don’t click links or open attachments from unsolicited or unrecognized sources. 
  4. Report any suspicious emails to your security team.

Access

If your employees don’t have access to customer data, they can’t accidentally give access to thieves. Creating and managing access controls is a crucial element of any security program. Profiles and access levels create layers of protection to sensitive data and system controls. 

This is another place where working with a professional network manager can be immensely helpful. The process of creating a functional, scalable, and manageable process to control who has access and when is not a small or simple process. Experience and knowledge are huge here. 

Password Management 

password-management

You’re probably sick of hearing that you need strong passwords that are 34 characters long, contain a number, a capital, a special symbol, and a drop of blood. But the rationale is simple. The harder a password is to crack, the better it works. 

There are lots of ways hackers attack password protected systems. From guessing, to what’s called brute force, hackers will try to gain access through passwords. Ohio State University explains how the complexity of passwords works.

OSU says “The time to hack a password increases exponentially with each character added to your password. For a password that consists of randomized characters of all types, the difference between 6, 7, 8, and 9 characters is days, years, centuries, and millennia!!!”

Nobody has time for an entire millennium of guessing. 

And reusing passwords is just a no-no. Passwords used in more than one place (like your bank account and your favorite coffee app) mean that if it’s guessed once they have access to everything. Maybe it’s not the end of the world that a hacker steals all your coffee stars. But is it OK if they get their hands on your savings account? Definitely not. 

And while passwords are important, consider a multi-factor authentication if you really want to double down on protection. 

Now more than ever, ensuring employees have the knowledge and skills to protect your business and your customers depend on smart and intentional actions. For more on what to consider when employees work remotely, check out our blog on 10 Important Remote Work Security Tips.

Conclusion

Criminals will always look for new ways to lie, cheat, steal, and ransom money out of people. Knowing what you can do to reduce your risk, and educating your employees can help protect you and your business.

If you need help identifying your risk points or creating security solutions, Atiba is here to help. Our experts have been helping public and private businesses create and monitor security programs for years. We’d love to help you, too. Reach out today for a free quote!

What are the Primary Benefits of Agile Project Management?

agile project management

One of the greatest sports movies of our time, Remember the Titans, is filled with great quotes. One of those quotes is when coach Herman Boone is trying to pump up his team at the end of practice:

What are you?

Mobile, agile, hostile!

What is pain?

French bread!

What is fatigue?

Army clothes!

Will you ever quit?

No! We want some mo’, we want some mo’, we want some mo’!

While your project manager or fellow developers may not have such a memorable chant, you still can become quite agile and mobile (and potentially hostile). You might have seen agile thrown around a bit, but what does it mean and what does it have to do with project management? Does it have any benefits? What does it mean for the end product?

Today, we’re going to be jumping into how the benefits of agile project management, how you can use it with a number of different areas, and how they can help you accomplish tasks and achieve your goals more quickly and fluidly.

Let’s Talk About Agile Project Management

For starters, what exactly is agile project management? Is it a method of working? A philosophy? A unique approach to project management?

The answer to those questions is: yes, it is.

Project development can take on many forms, especially during the early stages. Planning is crucial for any new project and inexperienced project managers might take a bit of time before they feel 100% confident in their approach.

One of the reasons we’re such big fans of agile project management is because it’s an iterative approach to project management. Stepping away from traditional project management This means that development has multiple releases and sessions with customer feedback. While regular customer feedback may seem scary to some, we’ve found that there are multiple benefits that come with using agile project management. Let’s dive into those benefits right away.

Continuous Feedback

agile feedback

Continuous feedback might sound quite scary to some, but there are plenty of benefits from receiving constant and regular feedback. As anyone that’s ever designed or built something for a customer, their opinion is important but too much of their opinion may cause delays and frustration on both sides.

However, it’s not just feedback from the client that you’ll be receiving, but feedback from your team. One of the big components of agile is making sure your team feels comfortable and open to exchange ideas or thoughts. Therefore, you’re going to be seeking feedback from each member on a regular basis.

Although your web designer is the expert, sending that design to the web developer to receive some feedback keeps them in the loop. Your content writer may send over a quick draft to the web designer to make sure everything seems clear. These feedback loops allow ideas and decisions to be tested early and often. That way, problems can be detected earlier and resolved quicker.

Flexible Changes

The biggest “enemy” (remember, we have to be hostile!) to agile is what’s typically referred to as waterfall management. Projects advance through certain phases and once a project passes on from one phase to another, it’s extremely to revisit a past phase as teams are constantly pressing forward. Any revisitation is both costly, feels like a setback, and can cause more delays.

That’s why making changes with the waterfall approach is so difficult. A tiny change in Phase One could mean bigger changes in Phases Two or Three. Plus, parts of your team might be ready to move onto the next phases but a certain part of your team might be holding everything back. This can grind the project to a halt and make any demo sessions difficult or impossible.

When it comes to agile project management, however, your team is going to have constant opportunities to build, adapt, and learn. Team members can be moved around seamlessly to other areas while issues are resolved. This allows members with overlapping skill sets to make changes and avoid any blocking issues.

Improved Client Satisfaction

At the end of the day, teams want to make sure the client is satisfied with the project. High satisfaction means positive feedback, potential referrals, more future clients, and a happier business. Hooray!

How does agile improve customer satisfaction? 

By implementing agile methodologies, you’ll be able to provide different reviews and checkpoints at a more frequent part. Since you won’t be hamstrung by certain processes, you can show features, functionalities, and progress at standups or reviews.  

Your client can also get early access to projects and help provide important feedback. How much of that feedback you want to take into consideration is up to you, but anytime the client feels like they’re being listened to is important for overall satisfaction. 

Risk Reduction

There isn’t a project out there that doesn’t have some kind of risk attached. Problems can arise unexpectedly at just about anytime, catching your team off guard and instantly setting everyone back.

Agile can reduce your risks almost to zero. Failing or falling short is almost impossible by making use of agile, meaning you and your team can have the confidence in knowing while projects may experience setbacks, failures will be almost non-existent. 

With constant feedback loops and checks, there aren’t long periods of time between the initial investment and checks. If there is project failure, however, it’s likely to be caught early through your open channels and feedback. That saves you both time and money in having to reevaluate or potentially start over.

With agile, you’ll be able to release products earlier to gain customer feedback and make any necessary adaptations to market changes. You’ll be able to stay one step ahead of the competition by making quick adjustments and changes without experiencing any setbacks. 

Speaking of money…

Cost-Saving Methods

All of the above points are all well and good, but we all know that the bottom line is one of the most important factors in any business decision. With the extra money, you can reinvest back into the project itself or into your business.

Not only does agile project management save you money, but it also saves you money quicker. For starters, projects can begin earlier. Development can take place quicker and less is invested in the initial planning stages. Less time there allows for more development to take place. Add in the fact that agile encourages flexibility and regular feedback, and you’re more likely to fix small errors or resolve errors before they become large problems.

A large problem, such as a data breach, can cost millions of dollars. No business can risk such a mistake.

Things to Watch Out For

agile warning

Of course, using agile isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are some pitfalls that you and your team have to make sure you’re keeping an eye out for.  One of the biggest pitfalls is the ease to get sidetracked. With waterfall management, it’s easy to know when you’re onto the next phase of a project and new team members can be implemented on the go. 

With agile, it can sometimes be hard to ensure everyone is working on the correct process. Documentation can easily fall out of order and management can be a little bit tougher. Because of this, it’s also a bit more difficult to measure exact progress. Without being able to track progress by solid benchmarks using numbered phases, it’s a bit tougher to say exactly where a project is in development. In connection with that point, projects can sometimes have no clear end-date in sight. There is no “final phase” and it can be easier to get discouraged with an unclear ending. 

How can you go about avoiding these potential pitfalls?

One way is to make sure you’re working with a small team and keeping things tight together. Agile can certainly fall apart if there are “too many cooks in the kitchen” and feedback loops look more like continuous, endless cycles. 

You should also be documenting all processes and functions in a place where everyone has access. Here at Atiba, we love to use Jira as it’s a great way to monitor progress and communication among team members.

This does mean that everyone will have to be diligent note-takers and project managers should encourage members to document their work and bring in other team members when necessary. 

Wrapping Up

As you can see, there are a number of fantastic benefits when it comes to making use of agile project management. Communication is improved, processes don’t face certain roadblocks, and projects can be finished at a faster rate.  Clients will be happier as they feel more involved in the project and your team can react quickly to any sudden changes or market trends. 

At Atiba, we are fans of the agile methodology as it allows us to work better with our clients, maintain higher satisfaction, and get your project pushed out quicker. If your company is looking to get started on your next project, reach out to us today for a free quote. We look forward to working together and becoming more agile, mobile, and (potentially) hostile!

What is the Best B2B eCommerce Platform?

best b2b ecommerce platforms

When it comes to eCommerce, there are countless factors to consider but one of the most important is which platform will be best for your business. In order to have a successful business, you need to make sure you have the right B2B eCommerce platform.

Last year, global B2B eCommerce grew by almost 20% which represented over $10.3 trillion dollars in sales. That means there is a ton of potential for your business but also a ton of competition. You want to stick out to your B2B customers, but how do you do that? What platform gives you the best chance for eCommerce personalization?

But there are plenty of options out there when it comes to choosing the ideal platform, where do you even start? How can you make sure that you’re choosing the best path for your business? Switching platforms is both costly and difficult so when you make your decision, you’re going to want to stick with it.

Let’s run through some of the platforms that you should be checking out, as well as their pros and cons.

Magento

magento ecommerce

We’ve talked about how Magento can help grow your eCommerce business and it makes our list without even a second thought.

Magento is a fantastic open-source B2B eCommerce platform and can work for almost any kind of business out there. We love Magento because in the topsy-turvy world of eCommerce, it provides a sense of customization and easy startup that puts users at ease.

There are some great features, like a flexible shopping cart system, total control over your website’s look, and functional selling options.

Plus, Magento was designed with businesses in mind. While there is plenty of overlap in the Venn diagram of B2B and B2C, Magento’s features were definitely designed to handle a business’s needs. That is also one of its downsides, however.

In order to make proper use of Magento, you need to have an experienced coder with you and the bandwidth to be able to take advantage of all the features.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Incredibly flexible, unique options
  • Made for businesses
  • Scalable for big and small businesses alike

Cons:

  • Needs experienced developers to take full advantage
  • A dedicated server is needed to properly host
  • Is a bit more expensive than others

Shopify

shopify ecommerce

It’s almost impossible to talk about eCommerce without mentioning Shopify. In fact, the snowboard store turned eCommerce-giant has recently teamed up with Walmart in order to go toe-to-toe with Amazon.

If you’ve got a small business, you might be thinking you’re not a big enough fish for the likes of Shopify. Many people consider using Shopify for their eCommerce platform like people use WordPress for their blogging platform.

So what makes Shopify so great?

For one, it’s quite user-friendly and doesn’t require a lot of knowledge to set up. It’s got a low start-up cost and the interface won’t have you frustrated. There are also plenty of free themes you can take advantage of to give your site the best look possible.

Shopify’s simplicity is also one of its shortcomings. In making a user-friendly platform, you won’t find the extensive customization you might find with other platforms. Its content marketing features are also noticeably weak.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Simple to use
  • Affordable pricing
  • Plenty of free plugins, themes, and apps to improve your website

Cons:

  • Customization can be limited and cumbersome at times
  • Basic content marketing
  • Lacks multi-language capabilities

 

WooCommerce

woocommerce ecommerce

If you’re a WordPress fan and comfortable with that platform, then WooCommerce might be the right call for you. WordPress already powers around 30% of the entire internet (including us here at Atiba!) and is also responsible for about 40% of eCommerce sites around the world. So, if you’ve got WordPress experience, then you’ll be quite happy with what WooCommerce has to offer.

What makes WooCommerce as a solid B2B eCommerce platform?

When it comes to the list of pros, it shares a lot of similarities with what WordPress is already doing well. It is incredibly easy to use, launch, and there are countless themes and plugins to check out. There are also tons of performance and SEO tools that come built-in so you can make sure your eCommerce site is ready for the World Wide Web.

Plus, as your business grows and evolves it’s quite easy to expand your site as well. It’s quite scalable.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Seamless integration with WordPress
  • 100’s of themes, plugins, and add-ons
  • SEO and performance tools

Cons:

  • Number of plugins can be overwhelming
  • Developer knowledge is needed to take full advantage
  • Limited customer support despite large community

Oracle NetSuite

netsuite ecommerce

Oracle isn’t a name that jumps at you when it comes to other B2B eCommerce platforms, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a look.

This cloud-based platform is ideal for businesses that have a storefront and various online stores. The multichannel capabilities are perfect for those looking to sell across different avenues and make the most of their business opportunities. It also has multi-country support if your business spans the globe.

NetSuite can be fully integrated with ERP and CRM technologies, making it easy to sync with other tools in order to save you both time and money when it comes to launching your site.

Unfortunately, NetSuite does have a steep learning curve when it comes to the initial stages. You will need an experienced developer or consultant to get you moving down the right track.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Global support for businesses that operate around the world
  • Multi-channel selling
  • Seamless integration with other technologies

Cons:

  • Steady price increases over the last few years
  • Limited support for some customers
  • Limited customization options

OpenCart

opencart ecommerce

Last on our list is another popular platform for the eCommerce world. OpenCart is a free and open-source software that comes with a number of powerful and useful tools to make the most of your online presence. OpenCart has been around for a while and they continue to make strides, most notably with their extension “OpenCart B2B marketplace”. This extension has made it much easier for B2B users.

OpenCart is also a multi-channel marketplace that will allow your business to access services across the web for easy and optimal wholesale selling. The platform is easy to update, extremely user-friendly and will help you set up a basic store even if you have little to no experience.

Of course, in order to take full advantage of the platform and all its features you’ll have to bring in an experienced developer or coder to help maximize your site’s opportunities. When it comes to payment and checkout, OpenCart has shown to be a bit limited as well.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Easy to set up and use, ideal for beginners
  • Simple metrics and reporting documents
  • Built-in email templates make marketing easy

Cons:

  • While not universal, is known to be a bit buggy
  • Noticeably slower checkout process
  • Limited long-term features

What’s the best B2B eCommerce Platform For You?

As with just about anything in the tech world, the answer is often those two frustrating words “it depends.”

It really does depend on the size of your business, the global scope, and how much control you want over your website. In order to determine which is the best for you, we recommend writing down a list of things that matter most to you for your eCommerce platform.

Your list should include things like:

  • Speed
  • Customization
  • Security
  • Setup ease
  • Support
  • Price
  • Features
  • And more

While we can’t put those in order for you, we can make a recommendation on our favorites. It’s no secret that we are big WordPress fans and as a part of that, big WooCommerce fans. We believe its functionality and ease make it a great option for eCommerce businesses.

If you’d rather not go the WordPress route, we suggest taking a look at Magento. It’s perfect for both big and small businesses and can go with your business if it continues to grow.

So if you’re looking to start your eCommerce website or just need help, reach out to our eCommerce team to help you get set up with all the tools you need. We look forward to helping you!

 

 

 

6 Mistakes to Avoid With eCommerce Website Development

ecommerce-web-development

The COVID pandemic hit a number of industries hard. There were some industries, however, that were able to withstand the global upheaval. One of these was eCommerce.

For proof, we don’t have to look any further than Amazon. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos saw his net worth grow by $25 billion during the pandemic. They also hired around 75,000 workers in order to keep up with the demand.

Although the growth of a colossus enterprise such as Amazon isn’t exactly shocking, eCommerce growth tends to be a national trend. In fact, US eCommerce sales rose by 14.5% from the previous year. With so much attention in the industry, it’s only natural that interest in starting an eCommerce business has risen over the past year as well.

Check out this graph from Google Trends on “how to eCommerce” grew over the last 6 months.

ecommerce-growth

 

So, what does that mean? It means a lot of people are trying to break into the eCommerce world and if you’re one of them, how do you stand out?

One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is by using sound eCommerce website development. Web development can be tough but necessary to keep visitors coming back to your website and increase sales over time. Web development plays a huge role.

When it comes to building the perfect eCommerce site, what web development mistakes do you need to look out for? Check out six things you should be aware of.

 

Consuming too Much Bandwidth

In today’s environment, people expect things ASAP and that’s never been more true than someone visiting a webpage. In fact, studies show that if your site or a page doesn’t load in three seconds, the user will bounce right off.

The average website is filled with high-quality images, banners, push notifications, and more. But if those items aren’t properly optimized, then your website will look like it’s trying to wade through mashed potatoes.

What are the processes and items you should be optimizing? For starters, you should:

  • Optimize all images, compress their file size so they load faster
  • Minify JavaScript and CSS. Too much on a page is going to slow it down
  • Lower the amount of HTTP requests

There are other things you can be doing, but it’s best to start off with those three. Not only will you have a fast-loading site, but you’ll also rank better in Google.

Speaking of ranking better in Google…

Underestimating the Importance of SEO

Get ready to see this little acronym everywhere when you start developing an eCommerce website. You might think that search engine optimization is all about on-page elements, such as content, title tags, meta descriptions, and more.

While those things are very important, there are plenty of other SEO aspects you should be concerned about.

On the web development side you have to ask yourself: is this site crawlable?

For a website to be crawlable, it needs to have a proper site structure, minimal redirects, proper canonical tags, no duplicate content, a sitemap, and much more. The easier you make it for Google to crawl your website, the more visibility you’re going to gain over time.

You can check how Google sees your website by making use of Google Search Console. It’s a free tool that can easily be connected to your site.

Ignoring Responsive Design

eocmmerce-responsive-design

Whenever you hear someone talk about web development, you’re almost guaranteed to hear them talk about responsive design. These two are the new peanut butter and jelly.

These days, the three devices people browse the internet on are: computers, mobile phones, and tablets (and iPod touches for those who were locked in a time capsule in 2008).

That means your website must be able to adapt to the various screens that people are using to browse the web. When it comes to building responsive websites, there are a number of proper practices and methods for doing so. WordPress will let you know if their themes are responsive or not.

However, even though you may be choosing a theme or design that says it’s responsive, there might be some more work to do on the development side to make it so. Oftentimes a theme or layout will look responsive but menus or other sections may not display properly, frustrating any visitors.

Being Browser Specific

Even though over 60% of web users have Chrome set as their primary browser, that doesn’t mean you should make your site Chrome-specific. Everyone has their favorite browser, but some of your users might be in that small percentage of people who still use Internet Explorer. If your website isn’t working properly for them, why would they stick around or ever come back?

It would be overkill to test out your website on every browser with every major change, but you need to be doing periodic checks in order to make sure your website is functional with each browser.

CSS is often a culprit in robbing you of all-browser functionality, so make sure you feel confident in your abilities if you jump into complex tasks.

Implementing Poor Web Security

ecommerce-web-security

“Identity theft is not a joke, Jim!” is just one of the many great quotes that Dwight Schrute had from The Office. But Dwight does have a point.

eCommerce websites with poor security can damage relationships with customers and torpedo your business efforts. When it comes to security, we often run into two words: authentication and authorization. What’s the difference?

Authentication is verifying the identity of a user and confirming who they are whereas authorization is giving said user access to a website, system, etc. More often than not, inexperienced eCommerce web developers will grant authorization without authentication.

Yikes.

In order to best protect users on your site, you need to implement proper security measures by using proper authentication and authorization methods. While the two words may be different, they must come together as one.

Sloppy Navigation

Above we mentioned some sound practices for making sure your website is crawlable by Google. Now we need to talk about how to make it easy for users. User interface and user experience will often fall onto the web design side. But you can make it easy for your web design team by thinking about navigation during the development process.

Plus, a crawlable website is much easier to navigate.

That means making easy-to-read menus, using simple structures, plainly distinctive categories, and a handy search function. The last thing you want to do is have visitors come to your site and be confused or frustrated while trying to navigate to a product page. Don’t count on users “figuring it out”. With thousands of other websites begging for their attention, they’ll just leave.

When it comes to eCommerce web development, there are plenty of mistakes that can be made. Some of them may be too complicated for those not fluent in web development. Here at Atiba, we have web development experts on hand to help you with any doubts. Make sure and reach out when you’re ready to take your eCommerce website to the next level.

 

 

 

Hiring the Right IT Services Company for Your Business

it-services-company

As a small business, you are always making difficult decisions about when to do things in-house, and when to outsource certain processes or projects. When it comes to IT work, there is often a steep learning curve. Sure, you can do the work yourself but it may take precious time and resources to train yourself, and even then, it might be done wrong. That’s even before we get into regular maintenance and troubleshooting.

From creating secure and reliable networks to digital marketing plans and collateral, there is so much to consider when building the IT side of even a small business. But investing in proper IT services can have fantastic dividends.

Holding back on properly investing in IT services may lower your productivity, reduce efficiency, and see you fall behind your competitors. Nobody wants to miss out on any of that. So let’s talk about why small businesses hire IT service companies to hire experts.

What are IT Services?

IT Services is a broad term for the contracted development of custom software for business. So just like you might hire a cleaning service to vacuum your office, you might hire an IT Service company to manage the development and management of your services and systems.

What Services are included?

There are many kinds of IT Services and each company is going to have its own unique options. Let’s talk about some of the most common IT Services that small companies contract out:

  1. Website Design and Hosting
  2. Network Services
  3. Custom Program Development
  4. Digital Marketing

popular-it-services

Let’s run through each one and check them out a bit more.

Website Design and Hosting

It seems almost unimaginable that you could have a business without a website these days. You might be surprised to learn that around 40% of businesses these days don’t have a website. If you find yourself in that camp, then it’s time to get on board.

website design

And people’s expectations for how a website should look and function are higher than ever before. But building and hosting websites takes skills and knowledge a small business owner might not have. And even those who do may find their time is better spent running the business than the website.

Building a great website goes hand-in-hand with online marketing and SEO (search engine optimization). You want your website to be mobile responsive, load quickly, and look nice. You can reach your target audience better having solid marketing and SEO tactics.

Your website might be the first interaction a customer has with your business and the value of that first impression is huge. Ensuring that customers see your business in the best possible light is worth investing in experts.

Network Services

Even small companies find they need their various devices to connect and talk to one another. Plus, they need all of their tech protected from intruders. But sometimes setting up reliable, secure networks can be complicated and is often time-consuming.

We’ve all had fights with printers or faulty internet. Who hasn’t ever wanted to toss their laptop right out the window?

network-services

Fighting with tech is exhausting and frustrating. Bad IT setups can leach time and efficiency out of business. You want your tech and devices to be reliable so you can spend more time working and less time troubleshooting.

Businesses who’ve hired high-quality IT services contractors often find the experience worth the investment. Network services often expand from basic services to more comprehensive services like emergency help desk support, data backup, disaster recovery services, and more. Hiring professionals can expedite the process and ensure that it facilitates work instead of making more of it.

And it might keep you from throwing a laptop out a window. 

Custom Program Management

Custom software can create fantastic opportunities for businesses to optimize workflows and services. In her article on Technology Advice, Tamara Scott says, “The software that provides the highest value to companies is often the hardest to implement.” 

We know this to be true from years of experience. When software is built for your business it provides the biggest return on investment. And when there is so much value to be had from custom software, it’s worth hiring a company with knowledgeable and reliable experts to help you along.

Digital Marketing

Marketing has grown into a living part of business. The days of brochures and billboards doing the majority of marketing are long gone. Social networks, blogs, video, email, and many other forms of digital marketing are becoming common, trusted forms of building a customer base and communication channels.

digital-marketing

In his Business.com article, Don’t Go It Alone: The Case for Hiring a Marketing Expert Ryan Ayers says, “Modern marketing is complex and requires a wide variety of skills and breadth of knowledge that can take years to acquire. Your business can’t limp along until you’ve learned everything you need to know about digital marketing.” That’s a powerful endorsement for the value of hiring an experienced digital marketing team.

How to Choose a Great Service Provider

How do you go about choosing the right service provider?

Just because a business is large doesn’t necessitate the need for a large IT services company. The company you hire needs to be able to make you a priority. You’ll be able to identify over-extended and bolstered promises from IT Service companies pretty quickly.

it-services-hire

 

So, what do you look for?

  • Clear and reasonable SLAs (service-level agreement). If the company has experience in solving tech issues, they’ll know how long a service should take and what you can expect to spend. Make sure they can offer service agreements that are created before the work begins.
  • Specific services and areas of expertise. A great IT Services company will have individuals who are experts in specific parts of IT Services. They’ll offer years of experience and knowledge that only a focus can offer.
  • A company that wants to understand what you do so they can provide what you need. Are they asking you a lot of questions about what your needs are, or are they only talking about what they do?
  • Look for references! Who have they worked for and who was happy with the job they did.

Contact Atiba for IT Hosted Services

Atiba has a talented and knowledgeable crew ready to help you get the most out of your IT. Our team of IT professionals over 20 has years of experience in focus areas to ensure that the work you need is done properly, quickly, and meets your needs.

We’ve helped many businesses just like yours grow their IT capabilities to better serve their business (check out our Case Studies).

We’re part human and part geek and we’re excited to help you! Contact us today for a free project quote.

Zoom Etiquette in the New Norm

5 Commandments of Zoom Etiquette

We all know those coworkers, clients, and even family members who struggle to adhere to basic Zoom etiquette.

A couple of weeks ago the homebound cast of Saturday Night Live pulled off a classic skit that made fun of quarantine life via a Zoom video conference call.  There was the “too close to the camera” lady who was 2 inches away from her webcam.  They had the “forgot to mute in the bathroom” character and the Zoom office jokester who did the already old “you only want to see me from the waist up” quip.

 

Zoom Etiquette - Nashville IT

Working remote etiquette…

The funny thing, of course, is that their portrayal of the new norm of video conferencing from our living room couches rings true to life.   For most people, Zoom and similar services are new.  The world has had to adopt a new way of communicating almost overnight.

In normal times, new technologies take a while to catch on.

They usually start with the “early adopters” (aka ‘”gadget geeks”) who, when it comes to tech, want to be first in line.  Often a younger crowd, these are the tech adventurers who bought cell phones when they were the size of bricks and spent big bucks to get the early version of the iPod.

If the early adopters are all-in, next comes what is often termed the “early majority.”  This is where most of us fall—the users who are willing to dip their toe in the water, but only after someone else has jumped in to test the temperature.  They may not have been the first ones to try out Uber or buy a Prius, but they are the ones that will collectively take an innovation from underground to mainstream.

And finally, the “late majority” and the unfortunately named “laggards” get into the mix.  Some are older and others are just set in their ways.  These Luddites are the users who resist until it’s futile, the old schoolers who prefer paper maps to GPS and would rather not have to learn yet one more invention.

This “technology lifecycle” that is well known in the startup and marketing worlds is predictable and repetitive.   New tech products usually take years to become mainstream.

But these are not normal times.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we have had to learn and embrace what is for many a new communication platform almost overnight.   Who would have thought just a few weeks ago a Zoom meeting would become the new default for business communications?

With this rushed mass adoption of video conferencing, as the SNL skit portrayed, social norms, best practices and etiquette are works in progress.  Everyone knows that when the phone rings you answer it by saying “Hello” and that emails should never be typed in ALL CAPS.   And (most) people know that it can be awkward to show up to a meeting at the office in your pajamas.  These unwritten rules are less defined for video conferencing.

Nevertheless, as the weeks of never leaving your house continue, ideas are starting to take hold about which behaviors are deemed acceptable and which are frowned upon.

5 Tips for Proper Zoom Etiquette

        1. Mute yourself when you’re not talking
          Unbeknownst to you, your mic might be picking up your washing machine or a car driving by. Be courteous to the speaker(s) and mute yourself when it’s not your turn.
        2. Pay attention to your background
          Your background can make you look either professional (like a bookshelf or cabinet) or slovenly (like an unmade bed).
        3. Limit distracting noises
          Dogs barking or babies crying in the background are cute and even humanizing, but a pair of teenagers arguing is distracting.
        4. No multitasking
          It’s oh, so tempting, but multitasking during a call is more obvious to viewers than you think. Again, be courteous and give the speaker(s) your undivided attention.
        5. Eat and drink with caution
          Drinking coffee is fine, wolfing down a sandwich is not.

The technology around video conferencing is nothing new.  But the speed at which it’s replaced phone calls and in-person meetings has been head-spinning.  Until our collective understanding of the etiquette of video conferencing takes shape, we all need to be patient with one another (and never do a video call from the bathroom).

 JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville IT consulting and custom software development firm.  Visit Atiba.com or AtibaNetworkServices.com for more info.

 

Is Remote-Only the way of the future?

A day in the life of a Nashville computer geek:   Remote-Only

Published April 12, 2020, in The Tennessean – JJ Rosen

It was just a few short weeks ago that a day-in-the-life at work meant shaking hands with people, meeting over coffee, flying places, and grabbing an occasional beer with some co-workers.   Online meetings were not uncommon, but face-to-face was always preferred and often needed to be efficient.

Flash forward to today.

With an ongoing global pandemic, everything about work has changed.  This change from our daily norms has not only been drastic, but it’s also been sudden.  For most of us, the transition to being  100% isolated at home, doing all meetings virtually, and having work and family-life become one and the same has been challenging to say the least.

For me, a creature of habit (for better or worse), I was completely out of whack for the first couple of weeks of this new life.  But as time has gone by, new routines and work habits have formed. Although it’s taken a bit of getting used to, I’ve started to settle in and somehow feel comfortable.  The whole situation is still weird, but I guess I’ve managed to adjust.

But what’s been interesting and unexpected is that some of the friends and co-workers I talk to are not just feeling more comfortable working only at home, but they’re also beginning to feel more productive working only at home.

I don’t think there are any silver linings to a global pandemic that is causing so much suffering.  But in the context of work, the situation we all find ourselves in these past few weeks is presenting some alternative ways of doing business.

Virtual meetings over Zoom, Slack, or Microsoft Teams, have cut down on the amount of time it takes to physically gather.  All of a sudden, it’s become acceptable to video conference with co-workers and clients in faraway places rather than to deal with the time, expense, and hassle of travel.   And even meetings that you would normally have face-to-face in your office have become faster and more efficient when they are moved online.

Commutes have alternated from 30 minutes of driving to 30 seconds of walking from the kitchen to the quietest place in the house to get some work done.   There is now more time in the day to manage as each person sees fit.

Business phone calls have become less formal and less stressful.   Who would have thought I could take care of several business calls while simultaneously walking around my neighborhood getting some exercise?   Where it used to be embarrassing to have your kid crying or a dog barking in the background of the conference call, it’s now no big deal.

Will these new ways of working stick?

No one knows how long we will need to stay home.  But, if working this way makes employees happier, more productive, and more efficient, we may be in for a transformation from the way business has always been done.  At least for some sectors, fancy conference rooms and corner offices may become obsolete in favor of simply working in an old chair at the dining room table.

There are some companies, especially in the tech world, that we’re already seeing the upside of being a completely remote workforce before the pandemic was forced upon us.  Studies of these early-adopters have revealed that ditching the office and making an entire company remote-only does indeed increase employee happiness and productivity.   Which in turn increases retention and profits.

As technology advancements make it simpler and easier to keep us connected no matter where we work, we can expect our new norm to become a permanent change to the way many of us work.

 

While you’re here, be sure to check out our blog on how to stay safe as a remote worker or head to our services page to learn more about what we do.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville IT consulting and custom software development firm.  Visit Atiba.com or AtibaNetworkServices.com for more info.

 

Revenge of the Nerds: Why techies make great CEOs…

Walking into a room full of people dressed in costumes would be normal if it were Halloween.

But it wasn’t the end of October. It was Labor Day, and I found myself surrounded, not by kids, but by grown-ups dressed in medieval garb and Batman outfits and more. Everyone from E.T. to The Incredible Hulk was there.

Welcome to Dragon Con, the world’s largest gathering of die-hard science-fiction, gaming, and fantasy fans from all over the world. Hatched in 1987, Dragon Con has grown to more than 80,000 attendees that take over four hotels and nearly every street corner in downtown Atlanta once a year.

Activities include everything from playing Dungeons and Dragons with 1,000 of your closest friends to participating in “Klingon Karaoke.”  Fantasy fans and gamers young and old flock to discussion groups and seminars on topics like “Space-Based Solar Power” and advanced puppetry. And that’s just on day 1.

The term “nerd” has been used the describe those of us who are obsessively into non-mainstream activities like those offered at Dragon Con.   We are mostly introverts except when we are with our own.  We like technology and science, and yes, we can be a bit quirky when it comes to social interactions.

Taking on the label of a nerd in high school or college is something most of us tried to avoid. Especially as a kid, being nerdy carries with it sometimes severe social repercussions, especially if young nerds are teased and even bullied.

Today, being labeled a nerd is becoming less derogatory.  In fact, as technology has become more central to nearly every aspect of life, being a nerd has proved itself to be quite advantageous. We tend to have a combination of computer skills and creative skills that are more relevant than ever.

In the business world, it turns out that the characteristics that nerds get ridiculed for as kids are the same traits that make them some of the best entrepreneurs and CEOs around.  The unparalleled success of people like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg prove that being a nerd can be a business asset.

In fact, there is an argument to be made that nerds are more likely to be successful in their careers than their cooler counterparts.

There are three nerdy qualities that translate into business leader success:

  • As I was reminded at Dragon Con, nerds tend to live and breathe their passions, sometimes to a fault. Whether it’s role-playing games or Star Trek, true nerds go all in.  This is the same kind of dedication and passion that entrepreneurs need for success.
  • It takes real courage to be different. Most of us have a natural inclination to try to fit in.  But being different in business is what drives innovation.   It takes courage not to follow the crowd – the same courage it takes to disrupt an entire industry.
  • Technology-focused. It may be a stereotype, but it’s true – we nerds love technology. Our interests in video games and sci-fi translate to a tech-oriented mindset that has become a mission-critical part of nearly every company.

There are of course plenty of “cool” kids who have these characteristics as well.  And coolness and nerdiness are not mutually exclusive. But we nerds often take them to another level, which is what many companies need.

So, if you’re not a nerd, it’s never too late to learn. A trip to Dragon Con next year might be in order.  It may not be everyone’s idea of professional development, but the creativity and dedication you find there might ensure that you live long and prosper.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville custom software development and IT support company.  Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.

If you’d like to get in touch with us today, reach out for a free quote!

The Internet is Broken

The internet is broken.

On March 12, 2019, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the Word Wide Web, commemorated its 30th birthday with a blog post that focused largely on what is wrong with it.

While working at the European scientific research center CERN in 1989, Sir Tim submitted a paper entitled “Information Management: A Proposal,” (which his boss returned to him with a note: “Vague but exciting”.)  Since then, the web and the internet it’s built on have come a long way.  What started as a relatively simple platform to post and link to information has become central to most of our lives.

There’s no doubt — at 30 years old the World Wide Web has a lot to celebrate.

It’s the place we go for everything from healthcare, to news, to shopping. We can use it to communicate, pontificate, or find a date.  Whether you’re selling, buying, blogging, tweeting, or just browsing, the World Wide Web has made many tasks in life much easier.

But as Sir Tim points out, the web’s ease of use is both a strength and a weakness.

As much as it provides otherwise marginalized groups with a place to speak freely, it also provides a conduit for hate speech and bullying. As easy as the web makes it to publish news, videos, and pictures, it provides no way of vetting their accuracy or source—it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction. With all the good this ingenious invention provides us, it also enables a worldwide unregulated platform for scammers and criminals to do harm.

Despite his warnings about the current state of the web, Sir Tim is hopeful for its future, stating that “given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”

So, how can we build a better web?  How can we balance the benefits of freedom with the risks of promoting a virtual wild wild west?

There’s no easy answer, but Sir Tim’s blog post has inspired some interesting ideas. Most proposals to build a better web center around three common goals:

  • Reduce the spread of fake content (news, photos, and videos).
  • Stop the use of the web as a platform for cyberbullying.
  • Protect the web from scammers, hackers, and those with criminal intent.

When it comes to reducing the fake content, whether it originates from hackers or governments, AI (artificial intelligence) is far from perfect but is rapidly improving.  Companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google are already using AI to block some fake content, but as the bad actors get more sophisticated it has become an ongoing battle. Nevertheless, as AI improves there’s a good chance the amount of fake content will fade.

Ending cyberbullying is more complex because it’s hard to define.  What’s the difference between online bullying, gossiping, or just sharing an honest opinion?  The latest ideas around curbing cyberbullying include technical, educational, and legal remedies.  Several are gaining traction, whether social media hate speech filters or mobile apps that alert parents when their kid is either a victim or perpetrator.

Protecting the web from being taken over by scammers is perhaps the biggest challenge. Because most all activity on the web can be anonymous, it can be hard to deter those with ill intent from tricking users into giving up their credit cards or their identities. Even so, techies are hard at work building “data loss prevention” systems that enhance antivirus, antimalware, and firewall systems by managing what data leaves your computer in addition to what is trying to enter it.

So yes, the internet is broken but all is not lost.

In the words for Sir Tim, “The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.”

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville software development and IT support company.  Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.