Contact Richard:   +44 (0)121 663 0223 +44 (0) 7703 355045

Should your MSP respond to “Quote and Hope” e-mail requests?

Crossed FingersI talk a lot to my IT Solution Provider and MSP clients about the need to have a strong sales process and stop writing sales proposals that are, quite simply, a waste of time and effort due to the fact the prospect has no intention of working with you – they’re just trawling for prices and possibly free Consultancy.

Hotmail and Googlemail

So it was with interest that I spoke to the owner of a medium sized MSP recently who said that their policy was to out of hand dismissed any request for information they had from prospects with a “free” e-mail address – Googlemail, Hotmail, Yahoomail, etc. These e-mails – typically with requests for license pricing information – often didn’t include a business name nor telephone number to respond to.

I can understand the MSP’s thinking here. If a prospect doesn’t have a legitimate e-mail address, nor any way of getting a telephone number to call them, it’s hard to take their enquiry seriously.

Measuring the results

But the MSP owner I spoke to went on to say that their policy had recently changed. During a quiet period in the office, the owner had received a license quotation request from a Googlemail e-mail address with no telephone number or business name, but rather than delete it – he asked a junior member of staff to respond to it.

Days later, the quote came good and the MSP ended up selling a large license deal which they made an excellent mark-up from.

The MSP owner shared with me that he believed the quotation request had come from a local business owner who simply wanted to shop on price. By sending an e-mail from a throwaway Google e-mail address with no telephone number or business name attached they were avoiding any sales telephone calls, avoiding being added to a mailing list, and avoiding any of what they perceived to be “hassle”. They wanted the price, end of story.

What can be measured, can be managed

This story made me think about how MSP’s approach such enquiries. In this example, the MSP was more than compensated for the time it took to respond to the e-mail. Based on the mark-up they made on the licensing deal, even if only 1 in 10 of these types of e-mails end up in a sale, it still makes responding to the other 9 quote requests worthwhile.

So why I still stand by my statement that MSP’s shouldn’t write long, complicated sales proposals without a very strong reason why, it’s worth re-visiting those elements of your sales process that can be automated or systemised and monitored and measured for effectiveness to the point where you know it’s worthwhile to undertake them.

Once you start doing this, it’s no longer a case of “quote and hope” – instead you’re effectively using your time.

Google Privacy Updates and the Information Google hold about you

Privacy LogoA heads-up that on March 1st, 2012, Google will be updating their privacy policies and terms and conditions. Google previously had some 70 such policies, which they are now reducing and simplifying.

What does this mean for you as a Google user? Well, Google are being very clear that if you’re signed in with a Google account (which you may well do via Google Search, YouTube, Google+, GoogleMail or any one of a number of other sites) then they may combine information gathered about you from any of those platforms.

This will present itself as you’ll see a much more integrated service from Google. So if you search for a certain technology brand, you may see search results that incorporate videos or blogs that others have shared with you on YouTube or Google+.

How to check the info Google hold about you

On the downside, not everyone is happy about these changes from a privacy perspective.

An interesting site to visit is Google.com/ads/preferences. From here you are shown the type of ads you’ll be served up with on Google sites, based on the assumptions Google have made from the data they’ve collected about you.

This can be a little hit and miss. If you see the screenshot below, Google has correctly guessed I’m a 35-44 year old Male, and that I like Business & Industrial, Computers & Electronics and so on. But I’ve got zero interest in some of the other topics it suggests for me.

Google Ads Preferences Screenshot

Google isn’t always so clever though. One young lady I know was listed as a 35-44 Male… Thankfully you can remove or edit these topics or information, or indeed, Opt-Out of these targeted advertisements altogether.

Be Aware of the value of your data

For the majority of people, they’re totally ignorant to the fact that companies like Google and Facebook are using our private information in this way. For others (myself included) I’m comfortable with this provided I know how the information is used.

It goes back to the saying – “If you don’t pay for a service, you are the product”.

As long as you’re aware of that and the implications, there’s no problem.

How To efficiently schedule meetings with Tungle

imageHere’s a tool I’ve overlooked for ages, despite Susanne and Vaughan telling me to get myself signed up for it.

Ever tried to schedule a meeting with somebody, and played e-mail ping pong to try and find a mutually convenient time and date? I know I have – and it wastes an awful lot of time and effort doesn’t it?

Screenshot of Tungle.me homepage

Tungle eliminates the back and forth of trying to find a time to meet, and allows you to easily share your availability with anyone.

Plug-In’s for Outlook and GoogleMail

There are Tungle plug-in’s for Microsoft Outlook, and it’s compatible with Google Mail and other hosted services too – ensuring your availability information is always up to date.

You can block out particular times to make them unavailable (I don’t attend meetings before 10am or on a weekend for instance) and nobody gets to see why you are unavailable, only that you are unavailable for certain time slots.

I’ve found the tool invaluable in coordinating meeting times, especially with those in different time zones (Tungle does the Time Zone calculations for you) – and as the service is free, it’s well worth checking out!

How to Protect the Data on your Laptop or Mobile Device – Part Two

SmartphonesRead Part One of this article here.

***

I recently wrote about the lessons I’d learned from losing my laptop computer, and the measures I’d taken to ensure my devices and data were protected going forwards.

I was lucky enough to have my laptop returned to me, but what would happen if you lost a mobile device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet?

Earlier in the week I looked at tracking your lost device, but now I’m looking at protecting the most valuable part of any Laptop or other mobile device – your data.

In yesterday’s article I looked at using Encryption and Device Lock mechanisms to protect your mobile device data.

In the second part of my guide on how to protect the data on your laptop or mobile device, let’s take a look at how you’d recover your data if you ever lost the mobile device that data is stored upon.

Backing up your basic Data

For all mobile devices – including laptops – there are a plethora of backup  which involve synchronising your essential data – such as contacts and calendar – to the cloud, enabling you to access that data from other devices and restore it to the same or a different device.

For Android users, Google already does a great job of making sure most of your basic data (such as contacts and calendar) is synchronised to the Cloud. Additionally, using an app like AppBrain ensures that all those apps you’ve installed are quickly and easily restored to any new device – albeit you’ll need to re-configure their settings. You could also use an App like SMS Backup+ to backup all your SMS, MMS and Call Log entries to GoogleMail, and Google+ ensures all your phone camera photographs are automatically synchronised on-line too.

If you’re using Microsoft Exchange or GoogleMail for your e-mail, then your E-Mail, Contacts and Calendar are typically automatically synchronised to a central server. Re-connect any device to Exchange or GMail and this information will be downloaded to the new device.

Even if you’re not using a Smartphone but an older more traditionally mobile phone – a service like Mobyko enables you to backup all of your photos, videos, texts, calendar entries and contacts on-line – so if you get a new device, you don’t have to manually re-input them all.

Typically though, all of these Cloud Synchronisation methods are aimed at backing up your most basic data – E-Mail, Contacts, Calendar, etc. What about the documents you work with such as Spreadsheets, Music and more?

Backing up your Files and Documents

A more robust Cloud based Backup solution will give you the option to select pretty much any set of data to back up, limited only by the capacity of the Cloud Backup provider you use.

Typically, this data would include your private documents such as Spreadsheets, Word Processor documents and more – but could easily be extended to include Pictures, Music, Videos and just about any other type of data you wish.

imageApple’s iTunes software already does a good job of backing up your iPhone, iPod or iPad – meaning if you lost your device, typically your music, apps and purchases are easily transferred to a new device – even if your original device is not available. With iOS 5, iPhone and iPad users also have access to Apple’s free iCloud service – which backs up your e-mail, contacts, calendars and documents to the Cloud.

But for more flexibility, a service such as Dropbox is a must-have.

Dropbox LogoA free Dropbox account gives 2GB of Cloud based storage away for free, and has software clients available for nearly all major platforms – including PC, Mac, iOS and Android.

Dropbox works by making sure that any data stored within a folder you create as home for your data is automatically and near instantly backed up to the Cloud, and additionally can be sychronised to any other device you choose too.

For myself, I have Dropbox installed on my Laptop PC under Windows 7 and within my Dropbox folder have sub-folders containing all everything from work to travel documents. I then have Dropbox installed on my Notebook PC so that if I’m travelling I have access to all my work, and any changes I make are automatically backed up on-line and synchronised to my laptop.

Furthermore I have Dropbox installed on my Android Smartphone, iPhone and iPad, so I can quickly refer to any of my documents in a flash.

I therefore always have the latest copy of my document with me, whichever device I’m using.

The added benefit of Dropbox is that because everything is also stored on a secure central server, I can also access any of my documents from any other PC in the world via a secure login. What’s more, if I want to share documents with another Dropbox user – I can simply right-click a folder and grant them permissions (ranging from Read Only, to full Edit) and the document appears on their device for their use – and they can do the same with me.

Knowing all of your data is continuously backed up and available wherever you are in the world gives real peace of mind. Never lose or forget a document again!

Obviously, you need to be aware of the capacity limits of your free Dropbox account – start using it to backup your large Music or Picture collection and you’ll soon run out of space – but Dropbox do offer a paid for premium  account with much greater capacity should you chose.

There are a plethora of other free and optionally premium backup solutions out there too – such as Mozy – and many other Synchronisation tools such as SugarSync and Windows Live Mesh – and there’s nothing stopping you using more than one service! On my Home Server in addition to having a local NAS based backup, I also use Mozy for home documents, SugarSync for my Videos, and Windows Live Mesh for old Archived documents. All are accessible from a web-browser from any device, so I figure there’s no harm in having your data backed up in more than one place!

 

Full Device Backup

For real belt and braces backup of your mobile devices, you’ll want to take a full device backup in addition to cloud based backups of your ever changing data.

A full device backup will backup all the settings on your device and often all the Operating System files too, meaning that if you ever experience a faulty device or catastrophic software issue then you can quickly reset the device back to full working order by restoring from the original image backup. The restore will then be complimented with your most current data from your Cloud backup.

Android Smartphone and Tablet users have a number of other options for full device backup. Check out Titanium Backup Root and Sprite Backup amongst many others.

StorageCraft ShadowProtect LogoFor Laptop computers and Netbooks, I use StorageCraft ShadowProtect to make a full image backup of my PC once it’s created and store this locally on a USB Hard Disk kept at home, as well as on a spare data partition. In conjunction with a Recovery CD or USB Key Disk (provided by StorageCraft) this means that even when I’m on the road travelling, in the event of a particularly nasty software failure I can restore my PC back to a working state using the original image, and have a backup stored at home in the event of a total Hard Disk failure.

Whenever you’re making a local backup of your device, always make sure that  any backup of your laptop or device is password protected (most backup software has this option) to ensure the data contained within that backup is safe. Otherwise a lost backup could offer someone the chance to snoop at all of your private data in one fell swoop!

 

Conclusion

I hope you’ve found this short guide, born out of the fact I thought I’d lost my own laptop, useful!

By making sure you use tools for tracking your lost laptop, smartphone or tablet, implementing both a Device Lock and Data Encryption, and ensuring that all of your data is backed up and synchronised to the Cloud, perhaps in conjunction with a full device backup – you should feel assured that in the event that you do lose your mobile device, you’ve given yourself every chance of recovering it and can rest safe in the knowledge that any data contained upon that device will remain secure.

Thoughts or feedback? Do you use different tools or strategies? I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment or get in touch!

 

My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part Three – Thoughts on Android

After reluctantantly saying goodbye to my HTC HD2 Windows Mobile 6.5 device earlier this year, I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, a Windows Phone device and an Android device for a few weeks at a time each, using them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.

You can read about my original motivations for this experiment here.

You can read part one of this experiment – my thoughts on the iPhone here.

You can read part two of this experiment – my thoughts on the Windows Phone here.

HTC SensationAt the start of September, my friend Steve Silk at Staffordshire University provided me with a HTC Sensation running Android 2.3.

So how did I find it? Read on!

Firstly, this experiment isn’t about the handsets themselves – it’s more about understanding the capabilities of the various Mobile Operating Systems out there. That said, the HTC Sensation looks beautiful – with a large bright 4.3” screen, very thin design but comfortable enough in the hand – plus a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, making it really fast in use, and an impressive 8 Mega-Pixel Camera.

I initially felt uncomfortable using the catch to take the back of the case off to insert the SIM card, as the case does feel plasticky and flimsy, but got used to it over time. The Micro-USB charging slot is on the left hand side, which feels awkward too – and the power button on the top of the device doesn’t feel comfortable initially as it’s too thin, but again, you get used to it. You’ll hear that phrase “I got used to it” a lot…

The Sensation boots up quickly… sometimes. I’ve gone from pressing the power button to entering my SIM PIN and being at the home screen in as little as 5 seconds on most occasions, yet on others it inexplicably takes 30 seconds or more from the SIM PIN to arriving at the home screen. It’s still faster than most other Smartphones I’ve tried though.

Through the setup stage, and no surprise here, you’ll need a Google account. Everything revolves around a Google account, so if you’re going Android, get used to using Google.

imageOn the home-screen, HTC have placed their HTC Sense interface on top of the usual Android UI. As a fan of HTC Sense, I quickly got to grips with this and was swiping left and right between the numerous home pages you’re offered to install Widgets and App shortcuts.

Talking of Widgets, which are small “always active” apps on the Android screen, HTC bundle a load of them out of the box – from Calendars to Agendas to something HTC call “Friend Stream”, a Twitter-like display of all your friends Twitter and Facebook updates. I found myself using it a lot. There are also a ton of widgets you can download for free. The home-screen may not look too impressive at first glance, but you can customise it to your own specifications very quickly.

Android gives the ability to create folders on a home-screen to contain Apps, but it’s far from intuitive to do this. I had to ask a fellow Android user to show me how. Once you’ve got it, it’s simple. Likewise adding App shortcuts and moving them between folders is simple, but clunky. This was the start of a number of indications that Apple’s iOS is simply easier to jump right in and get working with when compared to Android, but that Android is more customisable. Another running theme in my findings.

Google+ ScreenshotGetting back to Social Media, and I was blown away by how well Android and HTC Sense integrates with not just Twitter and Facebook, but LinkedIn, Google+ as well as Exchange, GoogleMail, Flickr, Foursquare and seemingly anything else you wanted to use. Once you’ve setup an account for each of these platforms, the HTC Sensation pulls all the updates and any other information from them and presents it in a unified fashion within your contacts screen. It *can* get messy, the Sensation occasionally got confused with duplicate GoogleMail and Exchange information – but on the whole it’s fairly amazing to be able to see all your friends latest Facebook updates, their Mobile numbers (whether pulled from Exchange or Facebook), Flickr pictures, Twitter updates and everything else in one location. Of course, you can use the individual apps for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. as normal – but if you’re a heavy Social Media user, then you’ll love Android.

Android is hot on notifications. It’ll automatically notify you of new e-mails, voicemails, SMS, Facebook messages, Google+ updates, software upgrades, patches and… just about anything it can. All of these are present in a non-obtrusive way in the notification bar at the top of the home screen, which you slide your finger down to open and view. Initially, all these notifications can become a distraction – constantly sat winking at you from the top of the screen. Over time I learned to quieten the Sensation though – turning off notifications and learning to resist the temptation to act upon others. Android is *very* customisable from this perspective. Out of the box it can blow your mind with all the info it presents, but as you become comfortable you can tailor it to your own liking.

As you’d expect, GoogleMail is supported very well under Android. It’s very easy to setup and you can easily archive messages, read HTML messages, and do just about everything you’d do in GoogleMail.

Microsoft Exchange support was just as easy to setup, and reading and responding to e-mails was a pleasure within the Android GUI. Frustratingly though, Android (like iOS and WP7) doesn’t support Exchange Tasks and Notes. Again I’ve got to ask, if Windows Mobile 6.5 supported these features years ago, why don’t modern SmartPhones? Bizarre. There is a 3rd Party app called Touchdown which brings Tasks and Note support into Android, but it feels a standalone app rather than integrated into the Android experience, and so I couldn’t find myself comfortable using it. Google – as well as Apple and Microsoft – please support Exchange Tasks and Notes in your Smartphones!

The SMS client was very easy to use, with threaded messages and the ability to forward SMS to other contacts. I did notice that Android grouped together conversations though, so if you sent a group SMS – then your inbox would show that conversation separately, but not under individuals SMS threads. I’m guessing this can be changed, and I can see why this would be of benefit to some people, but I occasionally found it confusing.

Wi-Fi is a breeze to setup. You’re instantly notified (see the pattern here?) when an Open Signal is available, and it’s a few clicks to setup your favourite Wi-Fi connections. Once you’ve set a number of Wi-Fi connections up, Android automatically and seamlessly connects to them as you move around. However… this hammers the battery something rotten. I found that using the HTC Sensation as a web browsing device killed the battery life, and it wasn’t unusual for me to require a charge after 90 minutes or so solid use. Not good.

Green Power Battery SaverAs with all the shortcomings in Android though, there are workarounds. I installed an app called Green Power Free that turns off Wi-Fi when the device isn’t in use. It helped, but the battery life on the Sensation is still really poor – I couldn’t get a full days use of it without some charging in between.

Getting back to Apps though, and this is where Android excels. The Android Market isn’t quite as nice an experience as Apple’s AppStore, but it is packed full of apps – some good, some shockingly bad. Whereas Apple vet all apps that appear in their appstore, Google don’t place the same restrictions on. This becomes self-regulating though as you find yourself using apps based on Word of Mouth recommendations or the ratings other users have given the app in the Market.

I couldn’t find a single App that I used on iOS missing from the Android Market. What’s more, I found a few Apps that I would have loved to have used on IOS but couldn’t find, available on Android. Overall, I think I prefer Android’s Open policy to Apple’s vetted apps policy as it allows more variety.

You might think that all these 3rd party apps (especially the poor ones) affect stability. Well, during a months use the Sensation crashed and rebooted just one time. Throughout the rest of the time I noticed one or two inexplicable slow-down’s, occasionally, but overall the platform was really robust.

Moving between Android Apps is fairly easy – pressing and holding the Home Button on the HTC Sensation brings up recent apps for you to browse through, and pressing the back button sometimes takes you back to your previous app. I say sometimes, because other times it didn’t seem to work and I had to manually go and find the app to re-visit it. With full multi-tasking support for all apps though, this wasn’t a problem as every app was presented in exactly the same state you left it.

Web Browsing is a great experience (battery life problems, as we’ve discussed, apart). I installed the free Dolphin Browser HD to replace the built in web-browser, and didn’t look back. It’s a pleasure to use, with the ability to pinch and zoom in on screens with text being wrapped automatically, and share content with any of the Social Media sites integrated into Android.

Android supports Adobe Flash, and there are great apps for both YouTube and BBC iPlayer. If the HTC Sensation had a more resilient battery, you could easily use this as your one and only media device.

The HTC Sensation has a physical Search button, and was context sensitive. Press it from the home screen and you’re presented with a Google Web Search box. Press it within Facebook, and you’re presented with a Facebook friend search. Very neat.

There is no physical camera button though, which is irritating if you’re a Social snapper like myself. The camera app is pretty amazing though, taking good quality shots and offering you the ability to easily tidy them up with crops and auto-enhancements, before sending them directly to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter or any other 3rd Party app you’ve installed. It doesn’t just blindly send the picture either – the Facebook app allows you to tag people, the Twitter app allows you to add Hashtags – just a really good experience.

Google+ Android App ScreenshotOne feature that did have me going “Wow” was the Google+ app feature that automatically captures and uploads any photos you take on the camera to a private location on the web, and then easily allowing you to share those pictures on Google+. A great way to both backup your snaps and share them.

Again, if you’re a Social Media person, you’ll love Android.

You don’t really need a PC to use this ‘phone, as it sets up out of the box and it’s easy to install apps and run Android updates over the air. However, if you do connect it to a PC then you can browse the device as a drive, or install software to use the PC’s Internet connection from your ‘phone – a useful feature I used whilst avoiding Roaming Data charges in Europe during the test.

Doggcatcher ScreenshotI didn’t play a lot of games on the Android, but there are tons to choose from. Likewise, I only used the Android to listen to Podcasts (using the great Doggcatcher app) and the occasional tune via the integrated FM Radio rather than lots of music, but it was intuitive to use, and I felt comfortable leaving behind my iPod Touch in favour of an all-in-one device like the Sensation.

By this stage you’re probably getting the impression I liked Android. You’d be right. It isn’t as intuitive as iOS, nor does it have the clean style of Windows Phone, and for that reason I didn’t pick up the ‘phone and become instantly “Wowed”. But for every irritation I came across, I found that Android’s customisation ability allowed me to overcome that irritation. What’s more, time and time again I came across instances where I thought “It’d be nice to be able to do this…” and investigation showed that Android allowed me to do that.

You’ll gather I think that Android’s Social Media integration is incredible. I thought iOS was good in this area, but it can’t hold a candle to Android – which offers an amazing choice of options to remain connected and share content.

It’s been a month since I began using Android, and a strange feeling has come over me. Unlike Apple iPhone users, or even Windows Phone users, I don’t feel voraciously defensive about Android. If I’m asked how Android is, I won’t staunchly defend the Android platform against the sticks and stones of others. I just smile and say “Well, I like it”.

Unlike the Apple iPhone – it doesn’t “just work”. It takes a bit of time to get used to, and for the non-techy this will be a challenge, but once mastered, you can customise it to the hilt to do everything you want, exactly as you want it.

Unlike the Windows Phone – it doesn’t blow your socks off the first time you see it. But it feels very much like Windows Phone in that it’s challenging the way you’re used to doing things, and offering you new, more efficient ways of doing stuff on a day-to-day basis.

But you know what? After a month, it feels comfortable and it works just how I want it too – both as a business device and a consumer device for a Social Media addict.

I really don’t want to give the HTC Sensation back. If I had a choice of which Mobile Operating System I’d like to use tomorrow, it’d probably be Android, but oddly I’m sure I’d begrudgingly live with a Windows Phone or an iPhone too.

I’m aware the HTC Sensation is a pretty kick-arse handset in terms of capabilities and has a ton of HTC customisation goodness to it. To this end I’m going to grab another lower spec HTC Android handset to see how that performs, and I’m also going to grab a non-HTC Android handset (the Samsung Galaxy S2 springs to mind) to see what the non-HTC Android experience is like.

Since I started the experiment, Windows Phone’s latest update – Mango – has also been released. As promised, as the next part of this experiment I’m going to revisit the Windows Phone platform with the Mango update to see what has changed there.

Despite having tested the three main mobile O/S from Apple, Microsoft and Google – this experiment is far from over. I think it’s fair to say you can see my clear favourites emerging though.

Watch this space. Smile

 

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