Evaluate your technology to add more efficiency in 2018

All companies look for ways to make their teams and processes more efficient, while increasing revenue and profitability. What’s your plan to do so in 2018?

“As you prepare next year’s budget, consider working with a technology company. You can revisit what you spent on technology and find ways to improve upon that for the future,” says Bill Nelson, vice president of Cleveland sales at Blue Technologies.

Smart Business spoke with Nelson about implementing technology to reach goals in the upcoming year.

How can businesses identify great opportunities to add efficiencies?

First, define your goals and objectives. Start by evaluating current business processes, looking for signs of inefficiency or waste where you have room to streamline. Then develop a strategy to do so.

For example, if it takes too long to find information through decentralized or paper-based processes, consider implementing document management software that allows you to quickly store and search through electronic documents — like a Google search.

Physically look around your office, too. If you see paper all over, particularly left at your multi-function printer (MFP), document management could help you cut back on that waste.

Having a lot of desktop printers, or a closet full of toner and ink, is also a sign of an inefficient print environment. A MFP could cut down on the number of printers, while a managed print services strategy could stabilize your supply spend.

Ultimately, in any internal review, the key is to identify pain points or bottlenecks. Ask yourself: What are you worried about? Be sure to get your employees’ input, too.

How can companies identify the right technologies in their strategy?

A technology company can help, creating a strategy that focuses on the most important things you want to fix now. Understanding the typical problems of your industry, they can determine if you have those same challenges — then work with you to implement custom solutions.

Technology moves so fast that you cannot be expected to know everything available. You may have an idea for a fix, but your technology partner might have another expert recommendation, or even find other issues to be the real root cause.

Additionally, IT and finance departments aren’t always on the same page, so an outside partner can help bridge that gap.

Once the strategy is set, how do companies execute?

Typically, you roll out changes in stages. That starts with your top executives, who have to embrace the technology and sell it internally to get buy-in. Your employees then need adequate training to feel comfortable using it; otherwise, they’ll continue as before.

Even after rolling out your strategy, you’re not done. You have to continuously revisit it — evaluating the results and making adjustments.

The process is like halftime during a football game. Ask what have you been doing right and how can you do something better. Sometimes, that means adding to what you’re already doing, figuring out a better way to accomplish your goal or moving on to the next one.

How can businesses maximize their budget when making technology investments?

Companies want to cut costs and stay within budget, but sometimes it takes a short-term investment to achieve savings long term. For example, if technology helps you do more with less, you don’t have to add more people as your company grows. Or, you can cut costs by consolidating existing technologies, which makes your business run more efficiently, and the initial investment pays for itself.

There are strategies that can help offset costs, too, such as section 179 of the tax code. Say you purchase qualifying office equipment with lease payments spread out over 60 months. If you sign the deal before the end of 2017, you can get a tax deduction for the full amount this year, even though you won’t have paid in full yet.

Your technology partner should be able to not only help you find the best solution, but help you afford it as well.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

How multi-function printers can enhance your company’s mobility

Multi-function printers (MFPs) that incorporate printing, scanning, faxing, copying and document storage have yet another role they can take on — promoting your company’s mobility. Even though these machines stay in the office, they can create a more productive, mobile environment for your employees through printing, scanning or collaboration that can be linked to popular web-based or hosted solutions, says Curtis Verhoff, advanced solutions manager at Blue Technologies.

“We talk to a lot of small and midsize organizations that have had MFPs on their premises for a long time, but they don’t know these capabilities exist,” Verhoff says. “With limited IT resources and staff, they often think these technologies are too expensive or they don’t know where to start. But it’s simple to install these solutions on an MFP and get your workforce, especially millennials, to use this technology.”

Smart Business spoke with Verhoff about how the MFP can help organizations take advantage of a more mobile workspace.

How can an MFP increase productivity with a mobile workforce?

Employees often work independently in separate silos, not as a unit. But by utilizing your MFP’s feature set or adding a small solution, your employees can scan a document directly to common hosted services, such as GoogleDrive, Box, Microsoft OneDrive or Dropbox for easy sharing and collaboration.

In addition, if employees work while on the road or at home, they can send their print jobs in advance. Then when they walk up to the MFP on Monday morning, it’s just a matter of typing a code or tapping a security card to release those jobs. They also can release print jobs from their tablet or smartphone while in the office.

This is helpful to people who travel between offices, as well. They don’t want to print everything and carry it with them, especially if they walk in and find out three more are coming to their meeting. If you need to share with a team, you can print it to a shared location or scan it and share that document with the group’s account.

How do employers get these technologies? How much does it cost?

Depending on the manufacturer, it’s often as easy as downloading an app from a marketplace of apps, which is then installed onto an MFP with little or no IT involvement. That ease of integration is enticing to small and midsize businesses that want to save IT consultants for bigger issues. Some of these capabilities are built into the MFP; some can be downloaded for free. Others with advanced feature sets cost a one-time fee, but it can be worth it if your employees use it on a daily basis.

Most people find these capabilities easy to use because they mimic the hosted solution that employees are already familiar with.

However, if you use older technology like an iPhone 4 or a Droid that’s a few versions back, you’ll still have the basic functionality, but you might need newer technology to take advantage of the extended features.

What problems might crop up? Is security an issue?

One complication can be if your infrastructure — internet connection — can’t handle this type of traffic to send a scan or receive a print. If you’re scanning a colored document, even if it’s a compressed PDF, you still need the internet backbone to pass it to the hosted Microsoft solution or another third party. However, as bandwidth becomes more affordable, it’s easier for companies to overcome this barrier.

As for security, employers may be concerned about pushing sensitive information, whether it’s scanned or printed. But most of these mobile technologies — OneDrive, GoogleDrive, Dropbox — use an encryption method of sending data to and from your device. If it somehow fails to make it to its destination, not only is it encrypted, typically the MFP deletes it in a secure manner.

If your workforce could use these capabilities to become more productive, it’s time to talk to your technology adviser. You might be surprised at how affordable it can be to go mobile — even if you’re not gearing up your staff with tablets and smartphones. If you’re using laptops and desktops, you can still give people the freedom to be productive and work outside of the office by integrating the features and technology that’s available through your MFP.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Spreadsheets, departmental databases make way for a new technology trend

Case management might not sound like a technology buzzword, but the all-inclusive system brings together bundles of information relating to a single case — a client, project, etc. — rather than working with individual documents or files in silos.

“When I first got involved with case management, it was hard to wrap my head around it. I always thought of a case as something like a legal case,” says Heather Stump, applications delivery manager at Blue Technologies.

But a case could be a sale from the start through to the delivery of that good or service, or a contract that goes back and forth, being revised, with all the associated information in a centralized system.

While case management solutions aren’t new, previously they focused on specific industries. Now, Stump says providers of document management or enterprise content management solutions all offer case management as an add-on module.

“It’s easily configured to your needs. There’s not a lot of custom coding. It’s easy to add or take away functionality,” she says. “A case management system standardizes your approach to business, creating a flexible structure to manage different workloads.”

Smart Business spoke with Stump about ensuring business scalability through case management solutions.

How can organizations benefit from this approach?

In any company, whether it’s manufacturing, insurance, government, health care or financial services, it’s not unusual for each employee to manage cases differently. One might use a spreadsheet, another just has a Word document and a third uses a departmental database. If the workload increases or an employee goes on medical leave, there is no standard way of doing something.

A case management solution improves communication and makes sure everyone has the information they need. It also can be accessed remotely through mobile devices.

It’s similar to document management, but the difference is it’s data driven; more like an enterprise resource planning, or ERP, solution, but much easier to customize. You can associate documents and files to the data, with checklists to see what is left to complete and the ability to run reports on any data point within the solution.

Case management solutions are particularly helpful in times of growth. With growth, comes volume, and volume without automation is very people driven. People manually drive that process, that volume, which turns into cost. It also takes them longer to process, without standardization or structure. The processes aren’t repeatable.

What do employers need to know about setting up a case management solution?

The discovery and design stage is critical. You want to understand where you want to start and have an idea of how it will need to be grown. These case management systems are relational database applications that are built from the ground up. You need to engage the right expert who can lead that phase in order to gather the appropriate information, such as understanding what type of case you’re managing, who touches those cases, who needs access to that information and what other areas of the business are related.

Before you call in that third-party expert, though, it’s a good idea to lay the groundwork. As the C-level executive or owner who wants to add this efficiency, spend time internally with your team planning it out and educating them on the need.

The design and training phase take the longest, but the testing/pilot phase is what makes the technology adoption successful, to ultimately boost efficiency and productivity. For example, a children and family services agency is implementing a case management system that will start with the central office. Then the agency plans to add on the contractors who help with the cases, and later, the other government agencies that submit documents and data related to its cases.

A gradual rollout is best, where you give employees time to run cases, claims or data through the system. They can ask questions and submit suggestions for changes. Then, once you go live, everyone knows what they are doing. If you don’t gain buy-in, the users will go right back to their Excel spreadsheet rather than use the system.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Your data is worth a king’s ransom. Back it up on the cloud.

The chances of disasters like a fire are relatively low — but still catastrophic.

In Northeast Ohio, Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools’ Board of Education burnt down in March. Blue Technologies General Manager Paul Sems says they provided the software that protected student records in a secure, off-site server.

On top of physical and technical risks, however, ransomware makes cloud backup more important than ever.

Smart Business spoke with Sems about ransomware and disaster recovery.

What is ransomware? How common is it?

The FBI defines ransomware as ‘a form of malware that targets both the human and technical weaknesses in organization and individual networks in an effort to deny the availability of critical data and systems.’ The criminal demands a ransom from the victim to get the data back. The type of malware (malicious software) that is used includes CryptoLocker, Locky, TeslaCrypt, CBT Locker and CryptoWall.

More than 40 percent of U.S. firms have been victims of ransomware over the past year, according to Malwarebytes research reported in The Guardian. The number of attacks is likely even higher. The FBI believes only 25 percent of companies report this crime. It’s embarrassing. No one wants customers asking, ‘Why am I doing business with you if you can’t secure your own data?’

Who is vulnerable to these attacks?

Every business is vulnerable. How much is it worth to access customer records, orders, inventory, balance sheets and P&L statements? Even consumers are at risk. A ransomware attack could extend to a business executive’s digital photo library.

Some high-profile attacks in 2016, according to Carbonite, were:

  • Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center attacked with Locky. It didn’t have reliable backups and paid a ransom of $17,000.
  • The Ottawa Hospital attacked with a variant of CryptoLocker, WinPlock. It had reliable backups and was able to recover.
  • Gigabit Geek attacked by CryptoWall. It lost a large portion of data. It didn’t pay.

The only known way to recover is to restore data from reliable backups. If backup files are on the same network as the systems they are protecting, the backups are at high risk of also being encrypted during an attack.

What can companies do about this risk?

The FBI and security experts recommend employers implement awareness programs to prevent social engineering attacks.
Businesses should ensure all systems and applications are patched and updated. Many attacks could be prevented with updated versions of Adobe Flash. The Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report found more than half of systems’ Flash hadn’t been updated in over a year.

Also, remove administrative privileges from all ‘user’ accounts (even IT staff) and set up dedicated administrative accounts that are only used when needed.

Most importantly, have a reliable backup solution where backups aren’t connected to the computers and networks they’re backing up. A cloud file sharing solution is not a data backup solution. It is just as susceptible because the encrypted files are just synchronized to the cloud.

Doesn’t anti-virus and anti-malware software help protect you?

Of businesses that were ransomware victims, 93 percent had current and active anti-virus and anti-malware software at the time, according to Datto’s State of the Channel Ransomware Report 2016. Prevention software programs block known bad software, but the Verizon report says that 99 percent of the signatures (hashes) of the malware used in a ransomware attack existed for less than 58 seconds before it was used.

If your company isn’t using secure, reliable off-site professional cloud back up, you shouldn’t feel comfortable. It’s time to better protect your systems — so you’re ready for ransomware or another disaster.

If you’re a victim, what should you do?

Contact your local FBI field office. The FBI also set up the Internet Crime Complaint Center (http://ic3.gov) for these crimes. Again, the only known cure is clean, reliable backups. The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom that could range from a few hundred dollars to over $50,000. Paying doesn’t guarantee you’ll regain access to your data.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

Work is not where you are. Work is what you get done.

Ready or not, the future is here. Technology is freeing us from our desks to work anywhere, at anytime.

In a Future Workplace study, 76 percent of respondents believe work is no longer just where you are; it’s what you get done. Driving this belief are generational changes in the workplace experience, both physically and in the tools and technologies used.

Smart Business spoke with Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta, about the tools and technologies that will affect the future of productivity.

Office management technologies

New office management technologies make the office smarter. Virtual visitor management systems offer a range of options, even helping forgo full-time staff to manage the front desk. Meeting scheduling tools connect people, keep meetings on track, increase collaboration and streamline how meetings are conducted.

Internet of things

In the office, an interconnected system saves time and increases productivity. Desktop and mobile devices can connect to appliances and sensors, in and out of the workplace.

Consider this: You schedule a presentation from your tablet at home. Your tech, alerted via smartphone, fixes the printer’s low toner so your materials can print. In the meeting room, printed copies await, the audiovisual equipment is set up and the smart coffee machine has brewed coffee. The gadgets communicate, the appropriate parties are notified and all your needs are met.

Advanced collaborative tools

Advanced collaborative tools manage workflow and provide real-time access to important documents — no matter where you are, or what time of day. Cloud-based document management applications like SharePoint provide a secure place to store, organize and share information.

Mobility

Mobility is more than a remote workforce; it’s about giving employees the tools to succeed. Employees want to use their own devices to access company information and applications. A Bring Your Own Device policy can increase productivity and realize savings, but controlling and scaling mobile usage is critical. Mobile device management can manage devices from a single console, update devices remotely and ensure the safety of your network.

Also, distributed computing or virtual desktop infrastructure allows companies to run applications in the cloud, fully replicating a work desktop experience from any device.

Customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI)

These sales analytic tools help you leverage data to grow your business. BI takes large volumes of data and analyzes it into insightful information that can predict future conditions. CRM tracks marketing and sales data, reporting on what’s working and what’s not. It helps build better customer relationships through targeted campaigning.

Robotics

The opportunities are limitless. Robots can aid remote medical procedures or underwater ship maintenance. They can carry warehouse items so workers avoid strain or injury. And drone delivery is just a form of robotics automation.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still being shaped. An AI system simulates human thought as it mines massive amounts of data. Today, AI applications can adjust marketing campaigns based on a target group’s signals, but someday AI may help doctors predict a heart attack before a patient feels it.

3-D printing

3-D printing is being fully integrated into the smart workplace to increase efficiency, boost productivity and impact profits. Car parts, smartphone cases, fashion accessories and even jet engines are being printed today. Plus, research and technology companies are developing quick prototypes affordably.

Advanced security

At the center of this is security. Security in this environment is incredibly challenging, yet paramount. Companies must have a comprehensive strategy, because for all the great opportunity these technologies afford, there is also great risk.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

How to choose the right document management solution

Document management systems (DMS) can seem complex and daunting. Most companies, however, depend on DMS to become more efficient, and secure and drive better business outcomes — even if they don’t realize the full potential.

“We’ve found many companies stuck on old versions or not even using document management,” says Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta.

Even the name document management leaves people with questions like: What’s the difference between document management and content management? Doesn’t Microsoft Office already track revisions? Can’t you use Windows to search inside your documents? Is it time to upgrade, or change to a new solution? And if so, after seeing dozens of tools, how do you choose?

Smart Business spoke with Cico about the ins and outs of DMS.

Why use a DMS?

Most current DMS have complex, robust searching. Some DMS use structured query language to run complicated queries quickly and easily, or in layman’s terms, it makes searching through millions of pieces of content as easy and simple as a Google search. About 80 percent of companies use DMS, so if you’re in the remaining 20 percent, it’s past time to consider it.

How can businesses narrow their choices?

First, consider if your company generates a lot of content daily. Some DMS can process a large number of documents more efficiently than others and require a separate server for indexing. If you receive content from your clients, some of it needs to be imported into your DMS, which can affect your choice. The type of company you run also matters. If you’re producing large size and/or large volumes of content, some DMS options will work better.

If you need to process large quantities of paper documents, you may want DMS that integrate with a multi-function printer. If your company works with a records management system, depending on which system and the number of records you store, some DMS will handle your workload better. Also, consider whether you need to share files with clients or outside counsel.

How are DMS and mobile integrating?

As more employees adopt mobile technology for tasks, more DMS have become mobile friendly. Three major DMS, iManage, NetDocuments and Worldox, manage employees’ content while allowing them to access content through their mobile devices. The availability and performance between the solutions, however, differs. To make an informed decision, you have to know how important mobile use is to your company.

What other features are important?

There are a number of specific features that only some DMS can offer:

  • Auto profiling simplifies storage and allows for detailed searches.
  • Matter centricity allows for a consistent workflow between people, processes and numerous applications within a company.
  • Application integrations. Companies may need to custom integrate their solution to other applications, and some DMS will integrate more smoothly than others.
  • Auto naming. File naming conventions can vastly vary. Instead of trying to force an implanted file naming policy, some DMS do this automatically.
  • Customizable interfaces and workflows. Some DMS allow for more customization and/or integration with other software, such as practice management or time and billing solutions. Also, if you’re upgrading from older DMS or file storage solution, you need a solution that will handle this properly.

How does budget factor in?

While some companies have little to no issue with large capital expenditures, others need to minimize expenses as much as possible. Some DMS require a much larger initial investment; others, such as cloud-based DMS, are designed or intended for use in companies of various sizes.

Even with all the different factors that can contribute to determining which solution is ideal, the decision still isn’t an easy one. That’s why it’s critical to have the right technology expert at your side.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

Rethink your printer strategy with these document security features

Document security is important — and while that’s especially true with companies that are required to comply with regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), every business has information to protect.

Most companies, however, don’t manage their printers in a way that helps keep printed documents as secure as their digital files.

“Take an architecture firm, for example. If its printed blueprints are not secured, that could cause a problem and the firm could lose business. You also don’t want proprietary information that’s unique to your company or your client list to get out,” says Matt White, subject matter expert on managed print services at Blue Technologies.

Smart Business spoke with White about document security features to consider for your printing software and hardware solutions, which will enhance compliance and protect sensitive information.

What features can improve the document security of your printers?

Printed documents can be a security risk. They get left on the printer, or someone else picks them up by mistake. If you have health plan or employee compensation information, you don’t want just anyone to see those documents when you print them. Features like follow-me printing and secure print release mitigate that. You basically print into a queue and it holds your print jobs until you release them at the machine, to pick up right away. This can be tied into software, where if you have a badge, you can swipe that and then print out everything in holding. It can also be tied into your hardware, so it doesn’t matter what machine you’re at or even what floor you’re on, if you’ve already sent the print job.

Not only does this help with document security, it also cuts down on employees printing documents and then not remembering to pick them up.

Rules-based printing also can improve your document security. Rules-based printing allows you to put specific rules in place to limit where the prints go, or even stop people from printing documents altogether. Some of the solutions are even capable of automatically re-directing certain documents to another machine, and an employee will get a pop-up that lets him or her know it was re-directed.

A lot of times rules-based printing is used for cost efficiencies, sending large print jobs to printers that are more cost effective. But, for example, if you have specific HR software that has employee records, you also can put rules in place that say nothing can be printed out of the employee records software to the copier. Instead, they have to be printed to small desktop printers.

Specialized printing techniques also make it possible to have printed watermarks that will vanish or appear if a protected document is copied or scanned.

How does a business owner know whether these print security features are working?

If you implement a solution capable of follow-me printing, secure print and/or rules-based printing, you’ll want to know if these solutions are actually helping. That’s where your technology expert can provide dashboards and reporting that give you enhanced visibility into what’s being printed.

With different software solutions, you can log in and see at a glance the health of your printing. You can see how many jobs were left at the machine, how many jobs were not printed but left in the queue, how many jobs were automatically redirected, how many jobs were automatically converted from color to black and white, how many were automatically sent to more cost-effective copiers, etc.

It’s a check and balance for whether the solution is actually providing document security, which is certainly useful if you need to prove compliance under regulations like HIPAA.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.

How to use web-based tools to improve collaboration

“There is a plethora of cloud- and web-based software applications and platforms that can help greatly with collaboration productivity,” says Stephan J. Cico, managing director of All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta.

Ultimately, the tools you choose will depend on your organization’s unique needs, but perhaps the most important tool to improve collaboration is a shared workspace that ties all collaborative tools together on a single platform.

Smart Business spoke with Cico about shared workspaces that can improve your company’s collaboration.

What is a shared workspace and how does it help improve collaboration?

A shared workspace platform, such as Microsoft SharePoint, can integrate all of your collaborative tools into one back-end system. For all but the smallest companies, having employees, partners and perhaps even customers linked via a single platform is an essential element for a smoothly functioning collaborative environment.

A shared workspace allows you to:

  • Set up an intranet for your team to find tasks, news, announcements and more.
  • Enable multiple users to work on a single version of a document from anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Store and organize thousands of documents and easily retrieve them with advanced search tools and filters.
  • Store, update and review project status reports, client histories, employee work schedules and profiles.
  • Create discussion forums for collaborating groups.
  • Create portals for partners and customers to view and share information.

What are the advantages of using Microsoft SharePoint?

Many benefits of collaboration can be achieved by implementing an intranet such as Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint is ideal for project management because after you assign tasks to team members, you will be able to see, at a glance, who has completed their project and who needs extra guidance or communication.

It’s also good for virtual office collaboration, which is more important than ever. With many employees working from home and others checking in from remote offices, a tried-and-true way to collaborate online is key.

With SharePoint becoming the go-to collaboration tool, it is also a good solution for working with vendors and clients outside your organization. SharePoint is more than just a communication tool, such as Skype, it allows both parties to work together and see how the project is developing along the way.

Since SharePoint is so widely used, good, in-depth help is also just a phone call away.

How can a shared workspace like Salesforce help increase collaboration?

Efficient web-based collaboration can be a key element in driving sales. Through Salesforce Development Services, your company can develop a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution that not only manages your organization’s interactions with current and future customers, but also fosters collaboration between employees.

A cloud-based CRM like Salesforce organizes and synchronizes critical customer and prospect information. A CRM can automatically analyze relevant data, such as demographics and risk-related information, in order to qualify sales leads. It can automatically notify customers about renewals and policy changes — building customer loyalty and simplifying time-consuming tasks for employees — and automate outbound marketing functions and track metrics.

A CRM solution creates a collaborative online environment for sales teams to share information and, ultimately, boost sales. A cloud-based CRM like Salesforce provides sales staff with social tools that facilitate the sharing of data about current and potential customers and allows them to keep up with critical projects, topics and teams. Teams can work together on sales opportunities, capture organizational knowledge in a single location and drive progress from anywhere.

A CRM also allows organizations to share information collected from interactions with customers in order to improve the quality of customer service and increase customer satisfaction.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

Improve your business collaboration over email, IM, phone or video

Your company may already be using technology for business collaboration, but how can you do so more effectively?

Smart Business spoke with Stephan J. Cico, managing director at All Covered Pittsburgh, IT services from Konica Minolta, about ideas for enhancing the way your company collaborates.

What do you recommend to foster better collaboration over email?

The secret to improving collaboration through email is simple — reduce, reduce and reduce. Use email as it was intended: primarily as a one-to-one tool for fast and simple communication, especially with customers and others outside your organization. To put email to work in its rightful place among collaborative tools:

  • Stop using emails to arrange meetings; utilize shared calendars instead.
  • Ease server load by using a cloud-hosted email archiving service.
  • Get email attachments transferred into a document management application and then delete the emails.
  • Stop using email for task assignment and status updates; utilize project management software instead.
  • Shift complex, multi-participant conversations to discussion forums. Use email only for notifying participants when the conversation is updated.
  • Stop using email for one-to-one conversations and switch to chat or instant messaging (IM).

While it might seem counterintuitive, IM is less intrusive than email. Employees don’t need to constantly check their inboxes, which often leads to distractions and workflow interruptions. Chat also removes the ‘impatience effect’ — when participants await responses to email messages. Arriving at conclusions tends to be quicker with IM.

The takeaway, then, is this: To improve collaboration with chat and IM, simply use it more. It might be better, however, to replace the ‘social’ chat applications with specialized team or project-oriented chat tools, which are inexpensive and offer a wider range of features that contribute to team productivity.

How can telephony aid collaboration?

If your organization still uses telephone conferencing services, you may be frustrated by poor phone signals, conference participants dropping out and missed information as participants talk over one another. The lack of visual contact can be a drawback, too, as employees may need face-to-face communication to be fully engaged.

Your collaboration can be improved with internet protocol (IP) telephony, which more easily manages and controls conferences where participants use a combination of mobile and landlines to dial into meetings. IP telephony is also inexpensive, helping your company save, especially for international collaboration.

What’s important to know about video and how meeting content is shared?

Accessible tools can bring telephony and video together. These tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated and offer higher quality communication for professional collaboration.

Enterprise video, as this technology is often called, can help you transition from a partial solution, where teams gather in conference rooms to view and speak with remote teams on large screens and speaker phones, to fully unified communications, where individuals meet virtually from their workstations with sound and video integrated on desktop or mobile devices.

Whether you use voice communication or integrate voice and video, you can improve the way meeting content is recalled and shared by utilizing technology to record conversations and take notes.

With note-taking software, the note taker no longer has to type up handwritten notes after meetings. It also helps to reduce email traffic. Further, unified communications solutions allow notes to be displayed on users’ screens. This gives participants an opportunity to correct the note-taker or request extra information be added, which results in a more accurate record.

Another application that captures meeting information is software that records conference calls. With this, you don’t even need a notetaker, meaning that all attendees can fully participate. Users can review the recorded conferences at any time and, if you still want written notes, they can be compiled from the recordings.

Insights Technology is brought to you by All Covered Pittsburgh

Are you maintaining and destroying the right documents?

Document retention is playing a bigger role in businesses today, as companies put plans in place to properly handle and manage their documentation. They need to remove old documents when they’ve reached end-of-life, while making sure the most recent versions are always there.

“It seems simple, but people don’t realize that there’s a lot behind it. Many companies have no idea that they are out of compliance,” says Nano Zegarra, chief technology officer at Blue Technologies. “People will say, ‘We just have an intern go in there and look for anything from this year and throw it out.’ That’s extremely risky.”

Not only do document management solutions help you throw out what you should, when you should — they stop you from deleting what you shouldn’t. Your solution won’t let you because it has not hit the retention plan yet, Zegarra says.

Smart Business spoke with Zegarra about how such technology can help you better manage your document retention and compliance.

How does document retention work as part of a document management solution?

Document retention manages the retention and disposition of stored documents according to predefined rules for each class of document. The destruction process is initiated by the passage of time, allowing for automatic destruction and/or removal from your network.

These solutions enforce a structured retention policy for document destruction consistently across the enterprise. Many companies use the software to flag documents so someone can review them. You might set it up so once a client leaves, for instance, the clock starts ticking — and then six months later, the solution automatically moves those files over to be reviewed and deleted as desired.

As a result, organizations avoid fines and reduce legal risks associated with expired content. If you get audited, you don’t want supporting documentation to be missing or have outdated documents sitting around.

If you still have documents in any format — paper or electronic — they can be discoverable. Most companies, for example, process 20,000 to 50,000 invoices a year. After a certain point the backlog may be worthless to your operations, but it could add to your legal risk if you’re involved in a lawsuit. Your organization also shouldn’t keep personally identifiable information longer than needed, because in the event of something like a cyber breach, you’re liable.

These solutions are almost like paper shredding electronically, in order to destroy all digital information. It may keep a history that says the document existed, but it doesn’t keep the actual document. Otherwise, your employees may think they’ve deleted something off your server, but it’s actually still there because it hasn’t been overwritten.

Document retention is often the initial, critical component of a completely automated records management solution. As more companies add compliance officers, one of their duties is looking at the retention periods of documents. These solutions make their job more efficient.

How can document retention tools help with older files that aren’t organized?

If your company has archived files on a hard drive, there are tools that can crawl through everything in order to find every document with a particular phrase, so you can delete those files. Previously, you would have to pay someone to do this kind of search for you.

Because this software looks at the data and recognizes what’s at risk and what’s not, it helps you put in retention plans, so you can start removing things when you need to.

Who benefits the most from these tools?

The organizations that benefit the most are in industries with a lot of rules, regulations and certifications where you have to worry about retention, governance and compliance. Medical and legal come to mind first, but it’s also useful for sectors like manufacturing and education.

These solutions don’t make your company meet a particular standard, but they will help. Software solutions may aid you in being compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), but they are not HIPAA compliant because the software doesn’t make sure a door is locked when you’re looking at a file.

Work with your technology adviser to ensure you’re meeting required standards, and ask how document management solutions can help you along the way.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies Inc.