Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Business Changes that will remain post pandemic

December 8th, 2020 by Heather Maloney

I have been thinking about all the changes business has experienced this year due to the pandemic, and which changes I expect to stay with us, impacting business in the years to come. These are my thoughts – I look forward to hearing yours as well, so please add your comments below.

Ecommerce

Ecommerce has not just increased in volume, out of necessity, it has reached many new categories and people who weren’t comfortable with it before, are now buying online as their default method. I expect that we will still revert to preferring physical shopping for some things – clothing, for example (at least until you know your size in a particular brand), and when we want to have the “experience” of shopping. Bustling in amongst all the goodies, playing with potential gifts, admiring beautiful Christmas windows, and stopping for a coffee and something sweet in a cafe just can’t be replaced by online. Well, not yet anyway!

As a stop gap measure while international travel is nearly non-existent, some tourist destinations have ramped up their use of virtual reality to promote the destination and/or promote the safety of travel to their location, to would-be travellers. Of course, you need to own a VR headset in order to watch e.g. an Oculus Rift headset and HTC VIVE are popular. You can read more about tourism’s use of VR in this article: Coronavirus: Is virtual reality tourism about to take off?. I am not expecting everyone to rush out and start enjoying virtual reality, regardless of the pandemic [the surge in sales over the last year has been mostly driven by the release of a VR game, rather than the general public seeking out the technology]. I expect to see ecommerce websites will be seeking to bring as much of a feeling of having an “experience” into their online stores as they possibly can, to bring back the shopper again and again. This is particularly key for online stores with large numbers of items for sale.

Consolidation of brands (due to smaller businesses closing down as a result of the pandemic), and the move of consumers to online stores selling a wide range of products (e.g. Amazon) is being discussed as an outcome of the pandemic, particularly in America. However, that means your more tailored, unique, one-of-a-kind products will stand out much more than before.

The increase in ecommerce will also drive greater activity in all areas of digital marketingemail marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) ads, social media events and advertising. PPC was already increasing in price, I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. It will be important to continue to innovate in your use of digital marketing. Whether that’s introducing video into your ads to stand out from your competitors, looking for smaller keyword niches, targeting your ad spend more carefully…

Postal / Courier Delivery

The use of postal and courier services has also escalated alongside the rise in ecommerce, and we have become much more used to concepts such as click and collect, and ring and collect, options. Having parcels dropped at your home without signature is also very convenient. Unfortunately I expect that we will keep being impacted by slow mail deliveries for awhile to come, so we need to be more organised, planning further ahead for the things we need, if we don’t intend to go to the store.

Businesses will need to focus even more on delivery of their product, not just attracting buyers and getting the sale. Speedy delivery will stand out.

Shopping locally, as in really local, has gained more importance and people are more connected to the shops that are close to their homes, and wanting to support them. I expect people will continue to source staples as close to home as possible and support local traders.

How we Meet and Work

The rapid uptake of video conferencing for business meetings has been well documented, as is how sick people have become of being on yet another Zoom meeting. Whilst it is better to have video conferencing, rather than just a phone call, I expect that as soon as we can get back to physical meetings, we will. I believe that the long lasting effect of the pandemic is a greater acceptance of being able to meeting using video, rather than needing to fly to meet with someone. Travel bills for organisations should stay much lower than pre-pandemic levels. More people will be able to present over video, rather than in person at events. We will just accept video as a viable alternative.

Along similar lines, I expect to see greater support for employees who want to work from home, but most likely a hybrid model will operate, where all employees are at least a few days per week in the office. Whilst there are benefits to be enjoyed by working from home, I believe that the ideal for both work-life balance, and for productivity, is for everyone to be together in the one place. Gaining hours back in your day by avoiding a long commute is the most obvious benefit of working from home; I expect we will see a trend to choosing to live closer to work.

Prevailing Kindness

I have always tried to be kind and compassionate in business, and have from time to time been shocked into reality when others have operated in a very different way. However, I have noticed since the pandemic, a much greater dose of kindness and consideration in dealings with other businesses. People have been forced to take stock of what is really important in their lives, and relationships and their loved ones, and just looking out for one another, have come up trumps.

Of course, I want kindness and compassion to continue after the pandemic, and I definitely don’t want anyone to try and manufacture this into their DNA as part of a shallow marketing strategy. However, I do expect that organisations will do well when they operate with kindness, real feeling, treating people as people who might be having a difficult time of it …

I expect that relationships between people in businesses will again be given more importance when deciding who you want to work with as a client or as an employee.

Scrappiness – doing things with more speed, heart, and a little less professional finish – has become much more acceptable, even welcomed, by people both in B2C as well as B2B environments. Scrappiness enables businesses to be faster to market, and is often cheaper to execute.

Hygiene

I expect it will eventually wear off, but for the next 6 to 12 months (timeline depending on how long we continue to see big spikes in covid cases) people will continue to be mindful of hygiene – not touching anything and everything; regularly sanitising their hands when they enter stores; no handshakes / kisses on the cheek. Businesses will continue to build a good reputation by supporting people’s focus on hygiene – keep it top of mind and be considerate, provide the opportunity to use sanitiser at business entrance, lift wells and in toilets. Practice elbow bumps in favour of handshakes.

Focus on Innovation / Comfort with Change

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Businesses who pivoted during the pandemic will now be even more agile into the future, and more willing to implement significant change, quickly. Responding to the pandemic has helped business leaders and employees to build resilience and cope with change. The pandemic has also made it very clear how unexpected events, and government / societal response to them, can affect your ability to trade.

I expect that business leaders and employees alike will be more focused on innovation, and more willing to try something new and radical.

What else do you expect to remain as a result of the pandemic? Please add your thoughts via the comment form below.

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Cloud Middleware for APIs Supporting Multiple Goals

October 23rd, 2020 by Heather Maloney

There’s no getting around it – businesses are increasingly using many different apps to handle specific tasks. Accounting, marketing, order fulfillment, sales, project management, the list goes on. Each application chosen by a business performs important tasks very well, but adds to the complexity of the business operations, particularly when information needs to be shared between the applications. Manually moving data between the applications takes precious time and is mundane work, and therefore runs the risk of not being done or being done poorly (with errors) or late.

cloud-based middleware for integrating applications

For many years, we have assisted our clients to solve these problems by implementing integrations between their websites / web applications / SaaS products and other business applications. The upfront cost of the integration has paid for itself many times over in time saving for the business, however, when the 3rd party application changes functionality or changes the API exposed to the public to allow the integration, then the integration can break and requiring rework.

Enudge email and SMS marketing app, designed and built by Contactpoint in 2006, has been enhanced to integrate with many different applications over the years. Enudge is presently integrated with Pipedrive (a deal management app), Gmail, Outlook, Xero and Salesforce, making it easy for people using these apps to send contact data to and from their Enudge account. These integrations can be costly to build and maintain, and there is always another app on our list, waiting for our team to integrate with!

We are always looking for ways to help our clients grow using technology, and doing that in ways that are cost effective, robust, secure and scalable.

A better solution to Integration.
The maturity of cloud-based middleware services that support application integration has led us to recently explore how these can be employed for our clients, to solve the problems I’ve described and support the following 3 Use Cases / business goals:

  1. Automating routine business tasks to save time e.g. creating an invoice in your online accounting system whenever a sale is made in your online store, adding a new customer of your online store into your email marketing platform.
  2. Ensuring integrations keep running, and are easy to maintain.
  3. Enabling other applications to integrate with your application in a cost-effective way, providing greater marketing reach for your application, and making it easier for your customers to use your solution.

Cloud-based middleware services, such as Zapier and Automate.io, act like the glue between applications or a marketplace where any app can connect with any app.

For the 1st goal – automating routine tasks – the ability to shift data around is significantly easier when your apps are supported by a middleware service. As a very simple example, you can set up the task of adding a new customer (in your online store) into your marketing platform, which then sends out a welcome email and ensures future email campaigns are sent to that new customer as well, all without you needing to do anything.

For the 2nd goal – easy to maintain integrations – the applications who enabled the middleware platform to integrate with their application are motivated to ensure the integration keeps running, and will ensure that it does, or give you plenty of warning that you need to update your integration.

For the 3rd goal – making it easy for others to integrate with your application, and all the advantages that brings – the middleware solves the huge problem of how to have enough resources (time & money) to enable integration with the vast array of applications that logically have a need to integrate with your application. Enudge, for example, should logically integrate with every CRM and ecommerce platform, as well as every lead generation solution. Using a middleware means that the effort to implement the integration can be carried out once, and support potentially thousands of applications. In addition, there will be automations required by our clients that can be supported by the middleware service, that we would never have thought of and therefore never supported. For example, what if an Enudge user needs to print name tags for every customer who indicated they would attend an event by clicking on the “I will attend” link in their Enudge Action Responder email campaign, and that name tag is created by a special name tag app? If the name tag app is available in the middleware service, receiving contact names, and Enudge has a trigger of “Clicked Yes” exposed in the middleware service, then suddenly integrating the two applications is available, without either application needing to know about the other.

It is perhaps the “marketplace” nature of the cloud-based middleware that is the most exciting aspect. It gives you the ability to quickly integrate two or more apps together to mimic your workflow, saving you time and money, and freeing up your time to get on with your core business.

So what is the downside; there’s always a catch, right?
Well, you need to have and pay for the account with the middleware service. The cost usually depends on the number of integrations you have in place, and how many times these are used on a monthly basis. These services aren’t prohibitively expensive compared to building and maintaining individual integrations yourself. It is not hard to calculate the return on investment provided by a service, based on the time it saves you.

The other issue you need to address is whether the business apps you have selected are available on your choice of middleware service.

Ideas worth Exploring?
If there are aspects of your business operations that are impacting on your time, feel free to get in touch so that we can explore together how they might be cost effectively solved using integrations.

If you are using Enudge and would like to integrate your account with another application, please get in touch. We are currently building integrations into the Zapier platform for Enudge, preparing for public launch, and would love to talk with you about being part of the beta testing phase.

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Embracing Serverless Cloud Technology

July 23rd, 2020 by Pavithra Kameswaran

In this article I will describe how serverless cloud architecture for a modern digital application provides Contactpoint clients with the opportunity for quicker time to market, less dependence of a particular technology and lower hosting costs.

When we say that a software application is running in the cloud, we mean that all the resources and services that the application utilises are hosted on the Internet. The internet is a mass combination of connected computing servers processing some 98,038Gb worth of traffic per second (at the time of writing!).

Accessing an application, and data it creates, which is hosted in the cloud simply requires a device (PC, tablet, mobile phone …) that a browser runs on, and a connection to the internet. As an example, all of the business software that Contactpoint use is running in the cloud, so that we no longer need to have those applications stored on physical servers in our office. This has meant that moving to everyone working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has been relatively easy. We simply took our devices home, and continued to have access to all the resources we need, including our telephone system.

So what’s the big deal about serverless cloud?

The term ‘serverless’ cloud refers to technology architecture where the developers of a software application do not need to concern themselves with the underlying servers upon which the technology is operating. It is yet a further level of abstraction, compared to provisioning private servers in the cloud, or virtual private servers that are then allocated to particular applications and maintained with regard to software versions, security updates, disk space, performance and physical hardware that needs to be replaced over time.

Our most recent serverless technology implementation for a client’s SaaS product (soon to be launched) comprises a back-end using AWS Amplify, AWS Appsync, AWS DynamoDB and AWS Lambda – more about these components in a moment. As stated by AWS (Amazon Web Services; one of the most popular and comprehensive cloud computing platforms) using a serverless architecture allows you to “build and run applications and services without thinking about servers. It eliminates infrastructure management tasks such as server or cluster provisioning, patching, operating system maintenance, and capacity provisioning … everything required to run and scale your application with high availability is handled for you.”

It is still vital that as developers we plan, architect and provision resources appropriate for the application being developed, but the serverless architecture reduces much of the issues and workload (both upfront and long-term) associated with managing servers in the cloud. Even more importantly for our clients, serverless architecture allows you to only pay for those services that are used by your application and only when those services are actually used. Depending on the payment option selected by you, payment can be down to the millisecond of processing power used by your application.

The competition between the main cloud providers – AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud – is fierce as they are vying for share of market, and our clients are often able to secure generous incentives to build on a particular platform such as free services for a year.

It is important to note that a serverless application has a very different architecture compared to a traditional application, in order to take advantage of the benefits of serverless. As developers we need to give much more weight to considering how often each function within an application will be invoked, how long the process will run for, and how much data will be transferred, as these will all have an effect on the costs of running the serverless application as it scales, as well as the performance of the application. Serverless application development also requires the use of components provided by the cloud provider in order to achieve the ability for the application to scale – underneath the covers these components take care of provisioning more physical servers and computing power to meet the demand of the application.

For our client’s SaaS product, choosing serverless architecture is the right choice as their app is destined for use by millions of people across the globe, but will start small. Using serverless means that they will only pay for the small amount of usage upfront, but the application will automatically scale as demand grows.

A brief summary of the main components used for the backend of our client’s application are as follows:

AWS Amplify is a framework and toolset within which mobile apps and web apps can be built. It facilitates the development of UI-driven, highly scalable applications and provides access to a large number of AWS cloud services.

AWS Appsync allows us to write GraphQL APIs in the cloud. GraphQL is a trending, flexible and a fast API query language. The choice between a REST API and GraphQL API, their respective advantages and trade-offs, is a topic for another blog! With directives such as @auth and @model, Appsync generates queries, mutations and resolvers for us, which we can then customise to the application requirements. It also provisions tables in the DynamoDB automatically, and both these put together, provides significant time saving in the app development. It helps developers focus more on core functionality of the app, business logic and front end.

AWS DynamoDB is a NOSQL database which continuously backs up the data, and automatically scales as required. Being a NOSQL database provides great performance for fast return of data.

AWS Lambda provides us with a platform to write microservices that will compute as required and only incur costs per computation. With the right usage, Lambda is very effective due to its nature of continuous scalability and zero administration required.

When should I choose serverless architecture for my application?

The general factors to consider when choosing serverless architecture are:

  1. Quick and continuous scalability – auto-scaling is an important attribute of serverless architecture. If your app is targeting a large user base e.g. the general public, then the number of your users, and their demands for resources, can grow very quickly. For example, a new online health magazine could grow to a million readers, but might start very small. If you were to allocate resources and services to cater for a million users right at the beginning, you would have lots of idle resources and need to maintain those as well as cover the cost until the readership grew. Using architecture that isn’t auto-scaling would involve much effort by the hardware, software and security teams to keep us as you grow. Auto-scaling solves these problems.
  2. Effective Cost Management – as mentioned above, building and provisioning resources with a million readers in mind right from the beginning could incur huge costs until the app makes it to a million readers. Instead, by developing serverless we will use resources and services as needed by the n number of users currently, and will scale up as the number of readers grow to a million (or more). Thereby, we will incur costs for the infrastructure only as it is used and presumably paid for by the users.
  3. High Availability – AWS components like Amplify and Appsync provide offline data access and conflict resolved synchronisation when back online. The databases and storage also tout high availability of data since distribution of servers in the cloud has facilitated almost zero downtime and 24/7 availability. This is why many organisations are migrating legacy applications to the cloud, and converting them to serverless applications.
  4. Low Maintenance – AWS databases such as DynamoDB and storage systems such as AWS S3 are so low in maintenance that we can almost term them as zero maintenance. AWS claims that DynamoDB requires absolutely no maintenance at all. Once setup properly, it can keep operating continually, scaling as required, and performing as designed and intended. Even the relational databases provided by AWS, such AWS Aurora, require very less maintenance (updates and patching) when compared to other non-serverless databases.
  5. Performance – last but not least, one of the most important factors for all applications is performance. We can have an online health magazine app that has the content and potential to become the most popular app ever, but if it cannot deliver content quickly for a million or more readers, it is bound to fail. By performance, we are referring to the speed of data retrieval, data submission, loading of the user interface (where that is part of the server-side application) and the speed of functions that process the data and business rules / programming logic of the application.

What languages does serverless architecture support?

When building an app within a serverless infrastructure such as the AWS platform described above, you still need to choose the programming language within which you will write the application that lives on the device of your end user, or is accessed via the cloud by the end user. This programming language then needs to be able to interact with the components above. AWS provides many options in this regard including NodeJS, Java, Go, PowerShell, JavaScript, C# and .Net framework, C++, Ruby and Python.

For our most recent application we chose NodeJS for the backend code, and ReactNative combined with NativeBase for the mobile apps. This choice allows for similar languages to be used across the frontend and backend of the SaaS product, providing for a simpler implementation, and easier application maintenance over time. However, some components of the AWS environment support Javascript, and Javascript libraries and frameworks better than others – like all cloud platforms, they are ever expanding and improving the functionality that they make available to developers to speed up development. We needed to switch choices of libraries several times to resolve unexpected issues with parts of our app due to less support for ReactNative compared to native mobile application languages (Java for Android and Swift for Apple).

Depending on the way your application is constructed, the serverless architecture also makes it easier for you to mix code implemented in different languages, allowing you to use best of breed for each function within your application.

Should I move my legacy or web application to serverless?

As I mentioned above, many organisations are moving their applications which were built and deployed on a dedicated server (either on-premise or in the cloud) to serverless architecture to gain one or more of the benefits. Before deciding to move an application to the cloud, you will need to consider the effort involved – you will only achieve some of the available benefits if you simply “lift and shift” your existing application. To fully benefit from the move, your application will need to be re-built in the new architecture. For this reason, organisations often put off a transition until their application is sufficiently in need of a re-build before making the move.

As a developer, I look forward to working on applications which help our clients grow, through the amazing scale possible via serverless cloud architecture.

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COVID-19 – Contactpoint are Ready to Help

March 13th, 2020 by Heather Maloney

Below is the content of a special Corona Virus Contactpoint News sent to our clients and associates on 18/03/2020:

Coronavirus Update

We want to assure you that Contactpoint is open and ready to assist your business during this difficult time. Being a technology company we have all our systems in the cloud and are well placed to respond quickly to the increased requests for support from our clients.

We have also been brainstorming how we can best help each and every one of our clients to respond, and are at the ready to step in as quickly and cost effectively as possible if you would like to:

  • distribute bulk communications (sms or email) to your customers and team.
  • create a landing page / special offer to your customers which addresses a new need arising from the present situation.
  • add an online store or service delivery to your website to provide your services or products remotely.
  • brainstorm how to best use your marketing dollar to reach people through digital marketing, given that searching for products, will now be carried out almost exclusively using technology.
  • or if there is some other way we can assist!

I am heartened to hear many of our clients are using this time to think strategically and pivot their business to make the best of this situation. Small business is the life blood of the nation, and it is very important that we keep our businesses running, and supporting one another. “Melbourne passes $10m stimulus package aimed at small business” hit the news this morning, and I suspect there will be more initiatives such as this.

And if you need cheering up, please check out: Coronavirus and animals: Shuttered Chicago aquarium takes penguins on a field trip.

Please do not hesitate to call myself or the team to discuss your response to the Coronavirus.

Best wishes,
Heather Maloney
and the team at Contactpoint

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When to Use a WordPress Multisite

February 3rd, 2020 by Pavithra Kameswaran

WordPress Multisites might sound a bit scary when you think of the potential issues that can occur with multiple websites being handled under a single umbrella with regard to setup, migration, updates, etc. But in reality, multisites are not that difficult to deal with once you understand the underlying mechanisms.

Often, it is assumed that a multisite is required when an organisation has multiple websites, or sites with similar design patterns, or multiple sites that differ only in content, etc. While it is true that for such scenarios we might use a multisite, it is not a mandatory choice. Such scenarios may be better served by individual single sites. In this article we will discuss when we should, and when we should not, utilise a WordPress Multisite.

So what is a WordPress Multisite?

A multisite is a collection of websites, with one primary website and the others being subsites, within a single instance of WordPress. Enabling the multisite structure within your WordPress website requires a small amount of configuration in order for it to be available, so you won’t see the option in a standard WordPress install.

With a multisite, you can allow the certain users to create subsites. It is up to the network administrator to configure which users can create websites, what themes and plugins are available across each newly created website, and how much control is given to each user.

The fact that a multisite means that the primary and all the subsites underneath it share the same WordPress codebase, allows the system administrator to update and maintain the site codebase in a single operation.

In general, a WordPress Multisite:

  • Has single point of top control.
  • Has a primary site.
  • All other sites are subsites of the primary site.
  • Has a super admin user (network admin) which will have control over all the sites.
  • Has a single instance of WordPress shared by all sites, thereby sharing plugins, themes and content.
  • Each site will have its own media content.
  • All subsites will share a common database, but will have their own tables as well within the database to contain their content.
  • The subsites can be setup as subdomains (e.g. subsite.mymaindomain.com) or sub-directories of the primary site, which can be mapped to another URL using a special Multisite plugin for this purpose.
  • All websites within the multisite will share the same IP address.
  • Registered users are shared across all sites (though not necessarily all having permissions for each site).

When to use a Multisite:

The following are common reasons to use a multisite.

  • In a logical sense, if your websites fall under a single umbrella, then it is best to setup as a multisite. For example, if your business has several locations or branches and each location needs to have its own subdomain or folder off your main domain, display different content but still pertain to the business overall theme and pattern, a multisite will be an efficient option.
  • Similarly, where an organisation requires separate websites per product, but wants to retain control of each of those websites in the one environment and set of users.
  • Having an organisation wide intranet, where individual divisions can setup their own intranet.
  • Having development and test sites within the one network, thus ensuring that the environment for both are identical.
  • For personal sites, where you want to have multiple personal sites within the one hosting and codebase.
  • You want to allow other users to create websites in your network.

Advantages

One advantage of a multisite is that all your websites are contained within the one web hosting account, saving you cost. However, a multisite will likely require more bandwidth and disk space than a single website, and therefore depending on your traffic and content, the hosting cost may not be too different from a collection of individual hosting plans. Shared hosting is not recommended for WordPress Multisites, and in fact some shared hosting platforms will not allow a multisite setup.

Another advantage is that once your WordPress theme is stable, it is easy to let another person create a new website employing that theme.

I believe the most important advantage of a multisite is that maintenance, upgrades, security, performance monitoring, etc. can be performed for several sites from a single point of access in one step, rather than needing to carry out these tasks over and over for each website.

When NOT to use a multisite:

  • If managing websites is the only concern, there are other automated tools such as Manage WP. You do not need a multisite for this reason, and in fact it could lead to issues.
  • If the sites are totally unrelated to each other, even though they share the same design, it is better to keep them as separate websites to allow flexibility with regard to the functionality available for each site, and to reduce the impact of any change across unrelated sites.
  • When each site needs to have its own IP address, you cannot use a multisite.
  • If the super admin is not comfortable dealing with the monitoring, configuration and maintenance of a multisite, which can get a little complex when you have several sites under the hood, a collection of individual websites will be easier for the admin to handle.

Disadvantages

One disadvantage of a multisite is that if the primary site is down for some reason, usually the other websites are down as well, and will need to wait for the primary site to be up and running again.


Deciding on whether a multisite is right for your purposes needs to take all the factors mentioned above into account. At Contactpoint we are happy to assist you in making that decision, and also helping you to maintain your WordPress Multisite. Please call or email to discuss your requirements.

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Your First 2 Hours

January 28th, 2020 by Heather Maloney

productivity at workOver the New Year break I try to read at least one physical book. Usually the book is in some way connected to business, with the aim of helping me during the business close down period to refresh and reframe my views of business, and start the year with appropriate, positive changes. It’s a great time to reflect and take a step back.

I don’t make New Years Resolutions though! [We all know how successful they aren’t].

I was delighted this Christmas & New Year to read the book “The First 2 Hours – make better use of your most valuable time” by Donna McGeorge (a gift from Lynne Cazally, a long-term business colleague). The book was actually a quick read; I got through it over the course of about 3 days. Despite the quick read, it contains some profound insights into how to work more productively, in sync with your body’s natural rhythms, instead of trying to fight them. Importantly, the book is supported by much research.

Since being back in the office on the 6th January, I have been applying the strategies suggested in “The First 2 Hours” in my day to day work, and also encouraging members of our team to embrace the recommendations. I can thankfully say it’s made a huge difference to my productivity. And when I am productive, I feel much better about each day!

I won’t attempt to paraphrase the book in this blog post, but the changes that I am personally making include:

  • Only skimming through emails at the start of the day to look for anything super urgent, and leaving the task of addressing my inbox fully until after lunch.
  • Spending my first 2 hours working on the most difficult task for the day, or the one that requires my greatest level of concentration.
  • Using the next 2 hours to focus on the needs of the team, and supporting them in the decisions that need to be made so that they can accomplish their work. Meetings with clients are now more likely to be scheduled in this timeslot, when I’m still firing on all cylinders.
  • I consciously delay or ignore the myriad insignificant but energy consuming tasks until midday, in order to save myself from experiencing ‘decision fatigue’ earlier on in the day.
  • In the post-lunch slump, I will deal with admin tasks or routine tasks that need to be done, but don’t need me to be at my best.
  • Ensuring that at the end of the day, I plan for the next day and know exactly what I am going to be working on during that critical time of the day.

As a team we have had to make adjustments to accommodate the changes I described above, including moving our weekly team meeting from Monday at 10:00 AM to Monday at 11:30 AM. I now feel confident that I can accomplish important work on Mondays too! I meet with our project co-ordinator at 10:00 AM each day to review workload across the development team by which time I would have already knocked off the toughest part of my day’s tasks and would be feeling charged to take on the day ahead.

With all the team on board with this new way of working, we are respectful of each other’s time in a new way, and are helping one another to utilise our most productive time well, interrupting each other less, and thinking about the way in which questions of one another can be grouped and asked at the right time of the day. It’s been a great start to the new year.

How has your new year started? Have you read anything helpful over the break?

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How we Support Women in IT @ Contactpoint

November 28th, 2019 by Heather Maloney

I believe that it’s important to lead by example, which is why I am writing this blog post about women in IT at Contactpoint.

The fact that I’m the founder and sole director of an IT company (male dominated industry) some would say is enough. And it would be relatively easy to leave it at that, because anyone who operates a business knows that doing so is very challenging, particularly a small business. However, that isn’t enough for me; I want to do my small bit to ensure that the females who work for us, and any other females that I come across in my industry, are given a fair go. That’s Australian after all.

Please note that I said a fair go. This isn’t about “jobs for the girls”, or giving anyone who doesn’t deserve it an easy ride. It is about acknowledging the diligence, hard work, brilliance, and support from the women in IT around me, who may need to break some cultural norms in order to be noticed and get the opportunities they deserve.

What do we do differently at Contactpoint for women in IT?

  1. When hiring:
    • Our job ads include words that research shows attract more females because we want to have a diverse team. A diverse team provides a richer source of knowledge and ideas for our clients, and a richer work experience for the whole team.
    • During interviews we acknowledge the (generalised) different styles of men and women when presenting themselves and their achievements. We have both males and females from our team involved in the interview to provide balance for the process and comfort for both male and female candidates.
  2. Work ethic:
    • Same for all. Women are socialised to be the ones who “pick up after everybody else [read ‘men’]”. I expect all my team to work hard (and smart); to do an honest day’s work.
    • Both men and women may need to do basic, perhaps you might say “menial” tasks from time to time … I expect both genders to roll their sleeves up and get it done.
    • When it comes to time off to care for children who are staying home because they are sick, I expect that either parent in the household might need to stay home to fulfil this caring role.
  3. Salary:
    • Same for all. We reward our staff with a salary commensurate with 1/ their level of education, 2/ their years of experience, 3/ their effectiveness in their role, and 4/ their work ethic. Males are often more likely to request a pay rise without any qualms (not always, it can depend on cultural background), whilst women are more likely to rely on their manager valuing their skills and efforts without fanfare, and will be less inclined to ask for the raise. This can leave females less likely to receive increases or a lower increase, as they are perceived to be happy. I am careful to assess pay rises evenly across the board, regardless of requests for raises or not.
    • Maternity leave doesn’t mean you miss out on pay rises – why should a woman’s salary effectively decrease due to time out of the workplace? I am careful to ensure that any CPI type increase is applied to the female upon return to work so that her earnings is not disadvantaged.
  4. Career:
    • Opportunity for all. As an employer I have had (mostly women) say things to me like “don’t hire young women, they won’t be with you for long before they head off on maternity leave”. Regardless, I believe that it is important to provide both males and females with the same opportunities to learn and grow their career, in any role they choose. Cultural norms can also lead to men being given more opportunity to progress and develop than women [you’d think that men were innately smarter the way some people behave]. Without that bias, I believe that I am better equipped to recognise talent.
    • Training for all. Each member of staff who has been with us for more than 1 year has the same funding for additional training, regardless of gender or role.
  5. Maternity Leave:
    • Pregnancy is obviously a uniquely female circumstance. The pregnancy also takes a significant toll on the female’s body and physical ability to work and do seemingly simple things like get on a crowded train and travel with morning sickness.
    • After the birth, the female can experience anxiety with regard to conflicting desires to both return to their career, as well as stay at home to nurture their young one. Cultural pressures from family or social circle can add to the internal conflict.
    • Helping a female return to work after her maternity leave requires flexibility; I try to provide this flexibility and empathise with the pressures that are unique to females who have a young one at home.
  6. Mentoring:
    • Whilst I’m very busy, I have made myself available over the last couple of years particularly to mentor females who are undertaking studies in technology and related fields – providing encouragement and insights to help them understand what their career might be like in the field, and ensure that whilst it is still very male dominated, that they understand the upside of working in the industry and can see examples of females being successful in this field.

The above might not sound earth shattering; actually it seems pretty obvious and like it should be the norm everywhere. Sadly that’s not been my experience, and from what I hear from others, not their’s either. This blog post seeks to put it out there, help to bring attention to the problem in a very practical way, and keep myself accountable as well.

What have I missed from the above? Feel free to contribute!

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An Update on Search Engine Marketing (Pay Per Click)

July 22nd, 2019 by Heather Maloney

It’s been nearly a year since we blogged about pay-per-click advertising in the search engines (‘PPC’ e.g. Google Ads / Bing Ads). A lot has changed over that short time including a new name and a completely new user interface for Google Ads; this blog is intended as an update for business owners and marketing managers to help you keep abreast of what is possible, and the best way to approach search engine marketing.

search engine marketing changes in 2019

Most of the change is around the use of AI applied to the smart delivery of targeted ads, making the customisation of ads for mobile phones much easier to encourage more advertisers to display their ads on mobile, and additional control by Google to ensure a positive customer experience.

Quality Scores
I’ve been involved in search engine optimisation (‘SEO’ – the art of achieving high ranks in the search engines for relevant, popular keyword searches) since the mid-1990s and organic traffic (people finding you through searchable content) has always been the #1 priority, and PPC ads the more costly way to get immediate website traffic while your SEO efforts grow your ranks over time. Naturally, the search engines, who only make money from paid ads, don’t see it that way.

Google changes the appearance of ads on a regular basis and gives preference to the display of ads, all in the attempt to make money at the same time as delivering valid results for searchers. It is in Google’s best interest to ensure that not only are organic search results highly relevant to the searcher but also the ads. Google wants people to be just as willing to click on an ad as they are willing to click on a ‘normal’ search result. To that end, even if you want to pay over the odds to Google for your ad in relation to particular search terms, you may find that your ad isn’t being displayed. That’s because the destination of the ad – the landing page, or web page where the searcher ends up when they click – is now also assessed by Google in determining who to show your ad to. This is referred to as the ‘quality score’. If your ad is about treating back pain and takes you to a web page that talks about exercise without reference to back pain, for example, Google is likely to give your ad a low-quality score and be less inclined to present the ad to searchers, and when your ad is presented the click cost will be higher (ouch).

What this means is that you must have high-quality landing pages/ad destination pages which richly develop the intent of the ad, and the ads must include appropriate keywords that are reflecting in the landing pages, which brings us to dynamic ads.

Landing pages that are congruent with your ads have been important for a long time and has driven the trend of having your landing pages not only disconnected from your main website navigation but also omitting your site navigation in order to focus the attention of the visitor only on the action you want them to take. This latest evolution is driving the use of 3rd party platforms which make it easier for digital marketers to set up dynamic landing pages, including sophisticated analytics around visitor behaviour.

Responsive Ads [and dynamic landing pages]
The latest overhaul of the Google Ad’s platform provides seriously sophisticated functionality for creating responsive ads – that is, ads whose content programmatically incorporates the search term entered by the searcher, from a set of search terms which you specify, and configures itself to the available space. A combination of 15 alternate headlines and 4 descriptions is possible. Using our back pain example, the responsive ad functionality allows you to create an ad that might have a headline of ‘Suffering from back pain’ or ‘Suffering from a sore back’ or ‘Suffering from a back injury’ all with the one ad i.e. you don’t need to create 3 ads to achieve this. Then, if the searcher types in ‘help with back pain’ your ad will appear as “Suffering from back pain”, or if they type in ‘recovering from a back injury’, your ad will appear as “Suffering from a back injury”. The descriptions in the content of the ads can similarly be filled on the fly to match the searcher’s intent as determined by AI.

To take this one step further, specialised landing pages can be configured to receive the search terms entered by the searcher, and then display those words in the appropriate place. Obviously, you need to be careful when doing this to ensure that the dynamic content makes sense in all cases, particularly if you decide to add more keywords a few month’s later. But the end result is a much more relevant landing page, a higher quality score, and additional traffic to your site at a lower cost.

The ability to create responsive ads and content takes a bit of effort to set up but means that you can create a lot more ads for less effort over the longer term, and achieve greater ad impressions, therefore more clicks, at a lower cost. It doesn’t however take away the need for greater copywriters, creative ideas and overall campaign strategy.

Ad Format
The available ad formats continue to evolve, and now includes:

  • Basic text-only ads.
  • Responsive ads – can insert text from a set of specified options matching the searcher’s search term, transform into text or image ads and automatically adjust size, appearance and format to fit space.
  • Image ads – static or interactive graphics, animated ads.
  • Image carousel ads.
  • Instream video ads – including vertical format ads specifically for people on mobile (you may need two versions), standalone video ads or inserted in streaming video content.
  • Product shopping ads – product photo, title, price, store name+ more details.
  • Showcase shopping ads – image and description that expands when clicked to show several related products and store information.
  • App Promotion Ads – drive app downloads and engagement with app promotion ads.

The ad formats available depends on your campaign type (search network, display network, search + display networks) and campaign sub-type (e.g. standard or all features).

Targeting
How we ensure ads are seen by the right people is continuing to evolve. In the Google Display Network (where websites show Google Ads, rather than ads as a result of customer searching) the placement of ads is much more a result of prior browsing activity and demographics (by users signed into Google) and less about their search terms.

Google’s “Exact Match” setting is no longer really exact … instead, it works out intent using AI (read more about the dismantling of exact match over the years). This is a little annoying as taking that control away means that we are relying on the accuracy of the AI and ultimately Google wants you to spend more. It also means that the thorough use of negative keywords (preventing your ads from displaying when particular search terms are used) is even more important. We constantly review the search terms used to display ads and extend the negative keywords list to prevent waste of our client’s ad budgets.

With Google’s significant improvement in targeting by audiences – whereby you load your known audience (customer database) up into Google and it then targets exactly those people with your ads or builds matching audiences of similar people – due to it’s use of artificial intelligence, using this feature to target the right customers for your ads has become more useful. You can make the best use of this feature when you have a larger customer database, and when you know where each person or segment is in their buying journey, allowing you to present appropriate ads for each person. New demographics have been appearing in the audience settings including marital status, homeownership and the like, so we expect this area to continue to expand. Although the recent $5Bn fine against Facebook could slow things down in this area?

Many businesses use Google Ads primarily for top-of-funnel (prospects at the very start of a customer purchase journey) and then use other means to communicate with the new prospect such as email nurture programs. Not surprisingly, Google wants businesses to use Google ads all the way through the process. The use of Google re-marketing – presenting a similar ad to a person who has previously clicked on your ads and visited your website – is another cost-effective way to re-enforce your message with prospects, as these ads have a significantly cheaper cost per click.

Bing has launched their own audience building feature this year, which is also AI-powered across data collected from Bing searches, Skype, MSN and LinkedIn usage, and is not to be ignored for highly targeted campaigns.

Configuration
Setting up ad campaigns for mobile searches (more than half of all searches are carried out on a mobile phone) was previously cumbersome, requiring advertisers to create another set of ads just for mobiles. That’s changed with the new ad platform allowing the one ad, including ad extensions, to be customised within the one place for desktop and mobile.

Goal-based campaigns allow the choice of the results you want to achieve – such as increased leads, greater brand awareness or higher conversions – and then Google will provide recommendations for campaign types that will perform best for you and your budget, and provides numerous automatic bid and placement optimisations. Again this is a result of their deepening use of artificial intelligence.

Whilst Google is giving us far more recommendations to use as we configure and optimise ads, sometimes these recommendations conflict; we don’t just follow these without careful consideration to ensure that they fit with your objectives.

Ad Extensions allow extra information to be shown as part of your ads. New ad extensions include Promotion Extension – the ability to include a price or special offer – thus enticing a visitor to click your ad instead of another.

Controls
Google is much more active in the assessment and banning of ads for all manner of legal and ethical reasons. We create ads with the best intentions in mind, include images, and then may need edit after Google has reviewed.

If you are using Click to Call style ads, the business name in your ads must now really be your business name, and mentioned in your IVR or by the person answering (sounds obvious, right … you would be surprised at how less-than-honest marketers have exploited this in the past). Interestingly, with the increase use of mobiles for search, Google removed the extra charge it originally levied on advertisers using click to call ads to provide metrics and reporting such as length of call (now a customisable setting to attribute as a conversion which previously not been tracked).

Summary
Due to the complexity of the ad platforms, increasing competition for organic search ranks, priority of the search companies to drive revenue through search, and the importance of the configuration on the cost of your pay-per-click ad campaigns, it is really important to keep a close eye on your pay-per-click ad campaigns. We work with our clients with pay-per-click campaigns in a variety of models, from strategic advice all the way through to full responsibility for the creation and execution of ads. We can pick up your existing campaigns from where they currently are and improve them over time, or work with you to create your first ever pay-per-click ads.

We look forward to having a conversation.

But Wait! There’s More
We haven’t touched on YouTube ads in this article (also owned by Google). With the viewing of YouTube video continuing to grow, presenting video ads within YouTube is an option more organisations need to utilise.

Google does not stand still – it tends to roll out a major update to its ad platform every 6 months. Google has already announced the many new features coming to their ad platform which will likely be rolled out during the rest of this year. Many of these relate to search on mobile phones. Here’s a shortlist:

  1. A new type of ad – Discovery Ads – to appear in the new Google Discovery Feed app that mobile users are likely using on their phones. Discovery Ads, because they are interrupting people in a similar way to ads inside your Facebook Feed, will have strict quality constraints around them e.g. the requirement for unique (not stock) high quality images.
  2. Images inside search ads, but only on mobile, and only in the first place – this will be called a Gallery Ad.
  3. AI will be used to create interesting 6 second videos from original, up to 90 seconds in length.
  4. Deep links from ads to inside apps.
  5. Advanced bid strategies will allow you to exclude data considered by artificial intelligence when determining when to place ads e.g. particular spikes due to out-of-the-ordinary activities.
  6. Location based ads will start appearing in Google Maps search suggestions and while a user is use getting directions.

We look forward to exploring the use of these changes and more in the Google ads platform.

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Why Write a Blog?

July 10th, 2019 by Dave O'Dwyer

Everyone says you have to blog … but why? No one reads them anyway, right?

Sorry, but that’s just totally wrong. For many of our clients, their blog posts are the best ranking, and most visited, content of their website. If you don’t have an active blog, it is likely to be a significant missed opportunity.

why write a blog post

Why blog?
Here are the reasons why blogging is very important:

  1. Signals new content to Google.
    Google values fresh content because it wants to provide the latest and greatest content to people searching for solutions. Google can tell that a blog post is part of a blog (as opposed to a landing page or other regular page of your website) and more often than not will give your blog content priority over other types of content, because blogs are intended to educate, engage in conversation with visitors, and address a very specific topic or news event.
  2. Builds authority.
    Blogs help to build both domain authority (Google ranking your website as a source of valuable information on a topic), as well as credibility in the mind of the visitor. Being willing to publish on a topic means that you know enough about it to put forward your views. Customers are much more likely to invest in your product or service if they believe you know what you are selling, very well.
  3. Backlinks.
    Informative articles will be linked to by other websites, again signalling to Google that your content is of good quality and worthy of ranking highly in the search engines.
  4. You Own the Content.
    While pay-per-click ads and social media posts, both drive traffic to your website, their impact either requires ongoing payment, or disappears after a short period of time. The blog posts you write if picked up by Google, will be found and therefore deliver traffic to your site for many years to come, and can help you to “own the space” for particular search terms.

The most important aspect of a blog post is that it gives you the freedom to publish super targeted content, addressing the concerns, desires or needs of a very specific segment of your potential audience. Your blog can easily incorporate what is referred to by digital marketers as long tail keywords – phrases that are frequently used people trying to solve a particular problem. For example, if you are the parent of a young child you might search on “how to help my child give up their dummy?” A blog post that addresses this question can easily incorporate this phrase, and related phrases within the content of the article.

Blog posts also allow you to focus in on the intent of the person reading the blog, and help them move forward down the decision path or buyer journey, by taking the time to explain the problem, empathise with the reader, educate, and give alternative solutions.

If you tried to achieve such a detailed response to a specific question through the main pages of your website – particularly if you have a wide variety of solutions to many customer needs – your website would very quickly become cluttered.

Some examples of blogs we have developed for our clients include:

  • Handyman: a blog post on how to change bathroom taps can include more keywords and information than a general handyman services page.
  • Graffiti removal service: removing graffiti from wood vs removing graffiti from glass target different keywords and searches compared to general ‘graffiti removal’.
  • Surf Shop: a blog about how to care for your board, providing value to potential customers, who then become aware of the brand.

How to approach writing a blog
When writing blogs for our clients in order to generate additional, targeted website traffic, we perform the following tasks:

  1. Identify search terms being used by potential customers to solve a particular, relevant problem.
  2. Consider the demographics and other characteristics of the potential customer.
  3. Clarify how our client’s product/service can solve the problem, especially how they differentiate from competitors.
  4. Write a blog post, rich in the phrase/s commonly used by the prospects, empathising and educating at the same time. We are also careful to use an appropriate style of writing and tone of voice to match our client’s brand, and which will engage the target market.
  5. Include at least one call to action within the blog content. The same call to action is likely to be linked to more than once, to ensure that the reader doesn’t miss it, and has it close by when they are ready to act. Depending on what you are promoting and the likely length of the buyer journey, the call to action could be requesting more information, subscribing to receive future updates, requesting a sample, buying immediately, following you in social media
  6. Incorporate design elements (images, video, headlines etc) into the blog post to keep the reader’s interest and make it more memorable.
  7. Receive client feedback.
  8. Finalise and post the blog.
  9. Share the blog post in social media and through email newsletters.

It’s important not to forget the final step of promoting the new blog post in social media. Sharing the post in your social channels, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, make it easy for others to share on your content, which in turn will achieve greater reach. Google My Business now also allows you to post articles, again extending the reach of your message.

Writing a teaser to your blog post, and including that in the regular emails to your clients, ensures that your existing clients don’t miss your valuable content. Blog content is easily shared by readers due to the social sharing links that are normally included within each blog post (see below … hint hint!).

Don’t have time?
SME businesses are often fully occupied running their business and don’t have the resources on a regular basis to write their own blogs. In this situation, we are very happy to help. A good place to start is making a list of the problems that you regularly solve and questions you commonly hear from prospects and new customers, then provide us with bullet points of your solution – we can take it from there!

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Our move to the cloud for operational tools

June 2nd, 2019 by Heather Maloney

We have at last completed our move to cloud technologies to support our operations. It’s a no-brainer that if you were setting up a new business today you would start out with cloud based tools for your core functions: financials, employee management, sales and marketing, and operations. However, when your business has been running for more than a few years (13 years in our case), moving to the cloud can be a very time consuming exercise and cause lots of disruption. So in the first place you have to actually decide to move to the cloud, and then you need to choose which set of tools from the myriad available. Finally, a careful plan of each technology change will be vital to ensuring the least amount of negative impact.

It is important to remember that “cloud” is not the same as “located on the internet”. For more about this, check out our previous blog post: Cloud does not equal the Internet.

Whilst Contactpoint doesn’t provide migration services for moving to the cloud (there are service providers dedicated to this task across the various functions listed above), we like to do these things for ourselves, and we are often asked for recommendations on which tools to choose. So this blog post will describe our technology choices, the reasons for those, and the benefits we expect to achieve now that we have moved.

Financials
In the early days of Contactpoint, there was no such thing as a cloud based financial package. Initially we were using MYOB, but after finding that expensive to add anything useful to, we moved to Xero. At the time, Xero was the most obvious choice – it had been created from the ground up for the cloud. This definitely makes a difference; it means you never have to put up with a piece of functionality or a way to do things that has to cater for both offline users and online.

We’ve been on Xero for over 8 years, and I am very happy with it. There are some things we can’t do inside Xero, and we needed to change a couple of processes, but on the whole is suits us very well. Mostly they have brought functions that we needed to use an external plugin to achieve – like payroll – into the Xero platform over this period of time. The one exception that affects us is the recent removal of employee expenses management, which is a tad annoying and will hopefully be reversed.

Businesses which have a heavy reliance on purchasing (inbound goods) will usually have a separate commercial / purchasing function. Contactpoint doesn’t, so I can’t comment on whether the purchasing function of Xero is extensive enough.

We benefit from having financials in the cloud because:

  1. Our accountant can access it online, and provide advice without us needing to send a data file around (which is of course immediately out of date).
  2. Updates are provided on a regular basis to ensure our compliance is easy. For example the enforcement of single touch payroll by the ATO, which took all of about 1/2 an hour to introduce into our processes, because Xero had already done the hard work for us.
  3. Integration with 3rd party systems, such as banks for automatic loading of bank statements, is easy due to the APIs that are available.

Employee Management
As mentioned above, we use the Xero payroll for the financial and compliance. Over the years, we have experimented with online tools for managing the growth of our employees, but we now tend to do this using our back office tools instead.

We benefit from payroll in the cloud because:

  • Employees have ready access to the details of their payslips, leave calendar, superannuation contributions, via a web browser.
  • Security around these systems is provided, as core to the platform.
  • Compliance functions, such as creating and sending our end of year payment summaries, and pay slips, take next to no time.

Sales and Marketing
Many of the technologies used by the sales and marketing functions of businesses are facilitated by the back-office operational systems. Cloud sales and marketing tools, which manage prospects, lead nurturing, and quoting, include tools such as Salesforce, Hubspot and Pipedrive.

Because of the use of our in-house built client management solution (see below) we currently use that to support our sales and marketing functions.

Of course, we also use many other tools for sales and marketing, including Enudge for email marketing, SEMrush for digital marketing analytics, and our marketing website.

Operations
For operations, from a technology point of view, it’s useful to separate that into back-office (documents, spreadsheets, email, calendar, communications – chat and phone for example) and core operations (whatever that is for your business whether manufacturing, distribution, or service delivery).

Because our back-office functions are closely tied into our core operations (managing digital projects for our clients), and our core operations have for the past 13 years been facilitated by an in-house built, online solution, this made our transition to the cloud more complex. I spent over a month analysing more than 50 available tools to replace our project management system, and needed to also weigh up the impact of each solution on our back-office solution. The outcome was a decision to keep our current project management solution because it contains far broader functionality than the tools appropriate to our business i.e. we could purchase a very expensive tool and get 95% of the features we currently have and perhaps a few additional useful features, but the costs are not justified. Importing our existing data from 13 years was also problematic, with most solutions saying whilst you *can* do this, it is not recommended.

Back-office
For back-office functions, we selected Microsoft Office 365. This was the final step in our move to the cloud, and which we have moved to over a period of 6 months. The choice of back-office solution was really a toss up between Office 365 and GSuite (Google’s alternative). In the end, Office 365 provided the most extensive set of features for all our needs, even though some areas aren’t quite as good as GSuite. The costs were very similar between the two solutions.

Our back-office functions were previously delivered by:
– iiNet for Hosted Exchange Email.
– local installs of Microsoft Office for Excel, Word, Powerpoint and Outlook.
– DropBox for cloud-based file storage. We moved away from having a physical internal file server about 2 years ago to give us greater storage capacity, flexibility and reduce risk.
– Slack for internal chat communications (a more recent addition which helped to reduce email volumes and increase collaboration).
– 3CX for VoIP function (cloud based telephone system) which also included a mobile app so that internal calls could be picked up remotely on mobile.

Office 365 replaces all of the above via the following components:
– Outlook Email
– Office 365 versions of Excel, Word, Powerpoint and Outlook – we also install these locally, and of course they are updated free of any additional charge.
– Microsoft Sharepoint provides cloud-based file storage. We were paying for ~1.2Tb of data storage through DropBox. After moving all our files (and a wee bit of cleanup on the way), our file storage is now around 250Mb. A significant part of that space reduction was due to the way that DropBox counts storage usage i.e. we never had anywhere near 1.2Tb of our own files.
– Microsoft Teams for chat.
– Microsoft Skype for Business for VoIP function (cloud based telephone system). Whilst this is more expensive than the 3CX system, the quality of the voice is better than the fully cloud 3CX system we had moved to when we moved office and went 100% wireless. Previously we had an internal PC for our VoIP system.

We benefit from back-office in the cloud because:

  • No cost to purchase upgrades to office software.
  • Cost reduction – DropBox alone was costing us >$300 per month, and was not providing the collaborative tools that are afforded by Office 365. iiNet was costing ~$100 per month to support all the email accounts required by our team. Add to that the cost of Slack and 3CX (annual maintenance + monthly costs), and the outcome was a ~20% net reduction of monthly costs.
  • Security around these systems is provided as core to the platform and managed through one tool. Reducing the number of environments makes it easier to control security.
  • Quicker to scale up as we grow employee numbers.
  • Better collaboration functionality. Whilst DropBox facilitates collaboration through DropBox Paper, this is separate to the file storage area, so it wasn’t really practical to use. Now multiple team members can work real time on editing documents, presentations and spreadsheets – way better than email these items around to the team and then one person collating the outcome. Using Skype for Business provides access to video calls with our clients without needing to invest in a separate tool.
  • Improved voice quality with our phone system.
  • Telephone System Management. Having the phone system integrated with our back-office system (Skype users are also Microsoft Teams users) makes management of communications that much easier.

Core Operations

As mentioned above, our core operational system remains our in-house built online client area. This facilitates a broad range of tasks across our organisation, including standard processes, project management, ad-hoc client requests (tickets), work prioritisation, prospect management and much more. Office 365 provides some of these tools through Microsoft Teams, so it could be tempting to move some functions into that environment, however having as many of the components of our current operational system in the one location is more important. Microsoft Teams is also a little immature with regard to its project team functionality, although it appears they are committed to enhancing it significantly in the short – medium term.

Our core operational system is regularly enhanced to meet our ongoing needs and to better support the services we provide our clients. Moving to Office 365 meant that we had to remove pre-existing integrations with Slack and DropBox, so we will be investigating re-introducing these functions through integrations with Office 365.

We also use numerous other cloud systems in the course of our operations including Figma – cloud based design tool, SEMrush and Google Analytics – cloud based digital marketing analytics tools, BitBucket – cloud based version control for software, TimeDoctor – cloud based time tracking solution, KeeperSecurity – another Microsoft solution for managing client credentials, and more. It is unlikely that all of the operational tools our business requires will ever be provided within the one system, so having a solution like ours which can be easily integrated with other online tools via APIs is very important.

Now that we have completed the move of our back-office systems to the cloud, we will be exploring additional integrations between the various cloud solutions mentioned above and Office 365. We expect these opportunities will also increase over time.

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