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Windows XP Support Ends in a Year, So What Are You Gonna Do About It?

To mark the one year remaining on the Windows XP support clock, Microsoft steps up its upgrade warnings and advice and offers a 15 percent upgrade discount for SMBs.

I thought the only companies still running Windows XP on PCs were small law firms and dental and optometry offices. But you’d be surprised how many businesses of all sizes are still running the 12-year-old operating system.

According to market share tracker, Net Applications, Windows XP still owns 39 percent of operating system market share. And a recent survey of 250 CIOs, CTOs, IT directors and IT managers in the UK revealed that only 42 percent of companies have started the migrating off Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 or both. At the same time, 82 percent of these survey respondents said they are aware of Microsoft’s plans to shut down support for Windows XP a year from today on April 8, 2014.

After 12 years Windows XP is way more prevalent than Microsoft wants it to be, and with many companies still dragging their feet, the company is issuing frequent reminders to upgrade ASAP.

To mark the “one year left” countdown, Microsoft published a blog post today with warnings about the end of XP support and advice on how to migrate.

The warnings and advice are probably nothing you haven’t heard before – XP was not build for today’s devices and security threats, Windows 7 and Windows 8 are faster and more secure – but it serves as an important reminder that migrating off Windows XP takes longer than many IT pros think and staying on XP can put a business at risk.

Read the Windows for your Business blog post for more details on migrating from XP to WIndows 7 or Windows 8.

To provide even more incentive, Microsoft also announced an offer for small and medium-sized businesses currently running Windows XP Professional to get a 15 percent discount when they buy Windows 8 Pro and Office Standard 2013 together.

Eligible customers must be running XP Professional. Windows 8 Pro and Office 2013 Standard licenses must be purchased as a package through Microsoft’s Open License program, and 100 licenses are the limit for each customer. The deal is available now through June 30.

Shane O’Neill is the Assistant Managing Editor for CIO.com


The Case for Cloud

The cloud provides agility by allowing companies to quickly and cost-effectively deploy the solutions they require in the areas of their business that need them. Imagine that your company is expanding into a new market in Asia. It typically takes months to get the right functionality in place and integrated into the central system. With cloud solutions, that process is cut down to weeks, allowing you to get up and running quickly and capitalize on the market opportunity.

For small and midsize enterprises (SMEs), the cloud is the great democratizer. Until now, many SMEs felt enterprise technology was out of reach and instead deployed point solutions with custom integration. That slower IT adoption curve limited business growth, further inhibiting IT investment.

But no longer can larger companies hide behind their scale, because smaller companies are growing quickly and leveraging big-company resources via the cloud. Today, SMEs can deploy the robust functionality needed to govern their unique processes and support rapid growth, all via the cloud. Cloud solutions provide the agility to scale up IT resources without the long implementation cycles that may accompany on-premise investments.

by Raymond Homan, SAP


Find Agility in the Cloud

If there is one word at the top of every company’s priority list today, it’s “agility.” More organizations are realizing that while size and speed are important, agility — the ability to scale up and scale down to meet the latest needs — is one of the most valuable capabilities in an unpredictable business environment. Companies want to be able to capitalize on growth opportunities as they come up, without having to invest in significant IT resources that take months to implement.

Cloud computing provides an unprecedented level of agility when deploying technology and introducing new business processes. The cloud brings the flexibility, scalability, and targeted functionality organizations are seeking to make the most of their opportunities and solve complex business challenges. The opportunities brought about by SAP’s cloud platform are vast. And customers have access to a broad array of cloud-based solutions via the SAP ecosystem.

The Case for Cloud

The cloud provides agility by allowing companies to quickly and cost-effectively deploy the solutions they require in the areas of their business that need them. Imagine that your company is expanding into a new market in Asia. It typically takes months to get the right functionality in place and integrated into the central system. With cloud solutions, that process is cut down

to weeks, allowing you to get up and running quickly and capitalize on the market opportunity.

For small and midsize enterprises (SMEs), the cloud is the great democratizer. Until now, many SMEs felt enterprise technology was out of reach and instead deployed point solutions with custom integration. That slower IT adoption curve limited business growth, further inhibiting IT investment.

But no longer can larger companies hide behind their scale, because smaller companies are growing quickly and leveraging big-company resources via the cloud. Today, SMEs can deploy the robust functionality needed to govern their unique processes and support rapid growth, all via the cloud. Cloud solutions provide the agility to scale up IT resources without the long implementation cycles that may accompany on-premise investments.

The Ecosystem’s Role in the Cloud

For SAP customers, the agility brought about by cloud technology is extended by the resources available to them in the SAP ecosystem, including infrastructure providers that leverage virtualization and next-generation architectures to deliver a low-cost private and hosted infrastructure optimized for SAP solutions; independent software vendors (ISVs) that develop and build

applications running on SAP’s platform-as-a-

service; and services partners that help migrate customers to the cloud and connect cloud solutions with on-premise systems. And SAP worked closely with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to

deliver the first and only certified public cloud solution to our customers, offering a flexible,

low-cost alternative that maintains the security and performance levels customers expect.

Clouds Forming Behind the Scenes

Part of the power of the SAP ecosystem is its breadth. SAP customers gain access to partners of all sizes, ranging from small ISVs to large,

industry-leading cloud players. And while virtualization might not be as visible as front-end applications, it is an area in which more customers are seeking guidance — specifically, how to best leverage private clouds. While many organizations are aware of the benefits cloud and virtualization bring, they may not be ready to commit to a fully cloud-based environment. For those companies, SAP has expanded its private cloud offerings with the help of partners like VMware and EMC.

SAP is working with VMware and EMC to deliver cloud and virtualization services to customers. Companies that run SAP and want to create private clouds gain both the benefit of deploying their SAP landscapes virtually and the confidence that comes from working with market leaders like VMware, EMC, and SAP. The risk is minimized and the benefits are maximized, letting customers gain more experience and confidence in the cloud.

SAP customers can run their SAP on-premise solutions or provision new SAP on-premise

solutions in a partner’s cloud environment. This results in lower TCO, faster time to value, and more flexibility. SAP partners such as IBM, AWS, and others offer cloud expertise and the benefit of choice, allowing customers to select the cloud platform that best suits their needs.

SAP customers leveraging cloud offerings through our partners also gain the benefit of out-of-the-box integration. Integrating various point solutions from multiple providers can be costly and time-consuming in the cloud. SAP’s cloud-based solutions and those our partners develop on our platform are designed to be integrated with SAP’s core applications and line-of-business solutions, providing deeper connectivity.

In addition to integration, the biggest challenge for many companies is mobilizing their enterprise quickly and cost-effectively. To expedite that process, most of SAP’s cloud-based offerings, as well as those of our partners, are designed to be accessed on mobile devices and have user interfaces that function well on a mobile device. SAP and its partners understand that mobile devices will be the entry point for many cloud-based applications going forward; we are engineering that capability into all of our cloud-based products while encouraging our partners to do the same.

Collaborate in the Cloud

Why does SAP give its partners the platform to develop these solutions? In many cases, partners are trusted advisors to customers, working on the front lines with customers in specific areas of their business. Partners understand those niches very well and can develop the innovative cloud-based solutions with the out-of-the-box

integration that SAP customers require.

For example, with only 35 employees, bathroom outfitter and online dealer b-cube is always looking for ways in which new solutions can make its business even more productive and more efficient. With the help of implementation services partner All for One Steeb, b-cube recently implemented SAP Business ByDesign, SAP’s ERP software solution offered in the

cloud, to manage the more than 15,000 products it offers and streamline its supply chain

and product management processes.

As an online retailer, b-cube’s online store is a key component of the company’s overall go-to-market strategy and its primary method of interaction with its customers. The front end of its system had to accurately reflect its business and cater to its customer base. So b-cube engaged with SAP software partner Hybris to develop its online store. Hybris’ technology came pre-integrated with SAP Business ByDesign, allowing b-cube to take the 15,000 products that it manages in SAP Business ByDesign and present them in the online store for easy customer access and navigation.

By combining SAP Business ByDesign with a carefully selected partner solution, b-cube now has a closely integrated, cloud-based system that provides the back-end functionality that a small business needs, but the front-end usability that its customers expect.

Reach for the Clouds

Cloud is an area that truly demonstrates the benefits of a strong ecosystem. As the ecosystem grows, so does the selection of cloud-based partner solutions and implementation options. To bring it all together, SAP Landscape Virtualization Manager helps customers with complex environments manage multiple cloud and infrastructure providers, whether on premise, in the cloud, or as a hybrid. Looking beyond today’s solutions, SAP actively participates in TOSCA, a standards body to help ensure seamless integration and migration among providers of cloud applications, middleware components, and infrastructure components. This all means that SAP provides a true cloud platform for the ecosystem — and customers — to thrive. n

If there is one word at the top of every company’s priority list today, it’s “agility.” More organizations are realizing that while size and speed are important, agility — the ability to scale up and scale down to meet the latest needs — is one of the most valuable capabilities in an unpredictable business environment. Companies want to be able to capitalize on growth opportunities as they come up, without having to invest in significant IT resources that take months to implement.

Cloud computing provides an unprecedented level of agility when deploying technology and introducing new business processes. The cloud brings the flexibility, scalability, and targeted functionality organizations are seeking to make the most of their opportunities and solve complex business challenges. The opportunities brought about by SAP’s cloud platform are vast. And customers have access to a broad array of cloud-based solutions via the SAP ecosystem.

by Raymond Homan, SAP


Five Ways to Turn Your Website into a Sales Machine

Your online presence is a vital part of any sales strategy. But is your website the sales powerhouse it should be?

Replicating the effectiveness of the face-to-face sales process online — and getting customers to go from clicking to buying — can be difficult. The good news is that there are a few simple tricks and tweaks that can improve your site’s revenue-generating capabilities.

Here are five tips that can help turn a business website into a sales machine:

1. Build an effective shopping cart.
Some small businesses use services such as PayPal for making and receiving online payments. But building a full-featured shopping cart directly into your website might be a better option. Shopping carts allow for more customization and the potential to provide more product information. Austin, Texas-based Volusion is an all-in-one shopping-cart tool that starts at $19 per month and handles checkout and payment processing. It offers more than 120 customizable online store templates that are smartphone and tablet-friendly. You also can showcase product options, add unlimited photos and make product comparisons.

BigCommerce, another Austin-based shopping-cart software provider, offers a similar package starting at about $25 per month. It includes customizable designs and can be integrated with social media and third-party services such as Google Product Search.

2. Recommend related products.
Even if you can’t interact face-to-face with web customers, you still can demonstrate old-fashioned salesmanship. An online store can include a “recommendation engine” that suggests complementary products, upgrades and additional services. For example, if a customer puts a grill in his online shopping cart, he can be prompted to also consider buying tongs and a spatula.

Facebook offers a free downloadable recommendation box that can be copied and pasted into your website code. Paid plug-ins such as Stevenson, Wash.-based 4-Tell’s product recommendation software, which starts at $49 per month, can generate recommendations based on sales data.

3. Optimize your site for search engines.
A website can’t sell if it can’t be found. So, you might consider trying some free tools offered by Google that can help your site show up more prominently in online searches. To use them properly, however, you will need both time and expertise.

Another option is an online search optimization service. Two examples are Nashville, Tenn.-based Raven Tools, which starts at $99 per month, and Israel-based Sheer SEO, which starts as low as $7 per month. Both services can help shorten the learning curve for identifying proper keywords and building links that can help pull your site out of the search engine cellar.

4. Start a contest or promotion.
An online contest or promotion can help attract attention in social media channels and lure potential customers to your site. Giving away a high value item can stir up the most attention but frequent, simple contests with smaller perks can also be effective.

For Web-based contest platforms, one option is Anaheim, Calif.-based Viralimpressions, which runs $2.99 per campaign, plus 79 cents per day. You might also consider Conshohocken, Pa.-based WizeHive, which starts at $249 per contest, plus $3 per day. Wisehive comes with the ability to customize a giveaway and to judge multiple entries, say, for a writing or photography contest.
Both can make it easier to organize and run promotions such as simple giveaways, coupons and sweepstakes. They manage the basics of asking visitors to like your page, fill out a form or join an email list.

For creating deeper customer engagement, consider a service such as San Diego-based Artistic Hub. It starts at $299 for a 30-day contest and lets people upload images and other media that can be judged by management or turned over to customers for voting.

5. Develop a shipping strategy.
When it comes to e-commerce, free or steeply discounted shipping is quickly becoming the standard. But to compete with big online retailers, you’ll need to ship strategically. Instead of opting for either costly or completely free shipping, you might consider something in between. You could make only ground shipping free and set a minimum purchase amount to qualify.

Shipping companies often offer tools that make analyzing shipping options easy. UPS, for example, provides a set of free shipping tools, including UPS WorldShip, that can be built into existing accounting tools. FedEx also offers a suite of tracking and logistics tools.

You also might consider a third-party option, such as Malvern, Pa.-based Malvern Systems, which starts at $149 per month. It offers several options for managing shipping, discounts and relationships with customers.

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news


The One Simple Task That Will Help Your Startup Succeed

Many startup businesses fail because their owners skip a critical step in development: talking to potential customers before opening the doors.

It should be an obvious, early task for entrepreneurs. Will people buy what you’re offering? If so, what will they pay? The answers may surprise you.

But not getting customer feedback is a major mistake that can cost you a lot of time and money – and ultimately, your business.

Here’s an example of how valuable raw customer feedback can be. Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, recently spoke to me about the birth of the car-sharing company. She wrote possible names on index cards and then handed them to people, without explaining anything about the business. All she would ask is, “What do these names suggest to you?”

Chase quickly discovered several of her favorite candidates for the name only confused customers. Though the company offers car-sharing services, names with the word “share” in it were a turnoff.

Related: How to Do Market Research–The Basics

Ash Maurya, the founder of the measurement-apps company Spark59, discusses effective customer research in the book Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works. There’s a right way and wrong way to do it. Here are a few tips on getting feedback effectively:

Skip the focus groups. Often, one person in the focus group has a strong opinion and hijacks the discussion, pressuring everyone to agree with him or her. So you’ve got 10 people in a room, but you end up with just one opinion.

Ditch the surveys. Conducting a survey can be problematic. Rather than pose questions and suggest answers, it’s better to let your customers tell you what’s important to them, Maurya says.

Watch the body language. The other problem with simply sending out surveys, Maurya says, is you don’t get to see how customers react to your idea. “Body language cues are as much an indicator of problem/solution fit as the answers themselves,” he says.


Find Out Who is Saying What About Your Business

Most small businesses know they have to have a strong social media presence, but few know how their brand reputation translates into sales.

But a new software that uses complex algorithms and modeling tracks and analyzes what people are saying about a company online, to give small business owners a better sense of their reputation and the effectiveness of social media campaigns.

Brand Contenders Index or BCIindex from Connecticut-based eWayDirect monitors what’s being said about a brand on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, news feeds, forums and blogs. It also details what local competitors are doing online.

“It creates a micro competitive environment looking at direct competitors,” says Neil Rosen, chief executive of eWayDirect. For instance, a local pizza store owner would be able to see what the pizzeria down the block is doing, enabling the owner to react to a competitors promotion or lack of one. The software can also tell a small business what other brands a potential customer may look at if he or she is looking to buy a particular product.

Having some form of monitoring the results of social media efforts and campaigns is becoming increasingly important. A company’s online reputation can be made or broken by one blog posting or Tweet. Having the ability to react quickly to negative posts can save a business from lost sales and spending extra marketing dollars.

Brand Contenders Index isn’t the first software to monitor a business’s presence on the web, but Rosen says the intelligence it gathers using the modeling makes it more powerful than other tools available.

“Companies can see how their brand reputation directly affects sales,” says Rosen. That means a small business won’t have to waste money on an Internet promotion they think is compelling but doesn’t really resonate with potential customers.

The data collected by the BCIindex software is mined in real time, giving the company access to how its brand reputation is faring at any given time. Armed with that information, a small business can change a promotion quickly or react quickly if a competitor is offering a promotion.

What small businesses may find to be the most valuable aspect of the software is its ability to make sense of the data–instead of just spitting out percentages. For instance, a small insurance company may have 50% of its data points negative—but that may not be a big deal since people tend to generate a lot of negative chatter about insurance companies in general. But for a media company a 50% negative rating could spell trouble since most people talk positively about that industry, according to Rosen.

What’s more, the software can tell a small business where the negative or positive chatter is coming from whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, news feeds, or blogs.

The software costs around $300 to $800 a month depending on the size of the company and how much data is analyzed. The company also offers a reputation optimization service which can range from $3,000 to $5,000 a month. Currently only around 30 to 50 small businesses are using the software, but Rosen exp ects that to grow as small businesses become educated on the need to monitor their presence on social networks.

“Small businesses absolutely understand the value of social and having to be on social,” says Rosen. “They don’t quite grasp how hard it is to understand how what they are doing on social is affecting them.”


Where Will Banks Spend Money in 2012? On Mobile and Big Data

Two important and broad technology trends for 2012 are mobile and big data. Each opens a new door to run your business differently—both internally or externally with customers. Each is a platform for new innovative applications that help banks reach new customers while reducing operating costs. And each is a focal point and offers specific applications for retail, commercial, and investment banking segments.

Let’s take each in turn

Mobile Technology

Mobile is driving innovations in a bank’s consumer, business, and process areas. Although, mobile security is still an issue that banks must address carefully. However, the business value afforded by these new applications can transform a bank and its customer relationships.

In the consumer area, we’re seeing three broad mobility trends:
•Mobile apps to access bank accounts on the go–both for consumers and B-to-B customers (such as treasury and financial advice), as well as internal personal productivity inside the bank to process expenses and holiday approvals, etc.
•Location-specific applications that know where customers are and deliver up more targeted offers, promotions, and alerts
•Mobile payment and wallet applications that link location offers with one-click contactless payment for a breakthrough customer experience

Big Data Technology

Big data is driven by the combination of low-cost in-memory technology, the explosion of social data, the need for immediate customer insights, and trading or market behaviour. Banks can now look beyond aggregated data and mine row-level data for the hidden gems that drive better customer insights, risk management, and a real-time view of bank performance. This is driving new applications areas, such as:
•Social financial management, where banks can mine data and use social media behaviours and customer sentiment analysis to communicate directly with their customers or link with mobile platforms to send location-specific offers at point of sale or payment
•Real-time computational risk and finance for completing both calculation and data analysis all in-memory.

Removing disk latency and being able to recalculate in–memory and on-the-fly huge complex scenarios will drive new applications and investments in stress test , liquidity, credit risk, and numerous investment banking scenarios . This, in turn, will propel differentiation and faster reaction to market events and provide the edge many banks want in managing information for business value. It also gives regulators comfort that automated data and calculation processes, along with real time architecture, may reduce systematic risk as banks can more clearly and quickly ascertain their positions.

These are just two of the trends for 2012. What do you see driving the technology spend in 2012?


Use Your ERP System to Manage Uncertainty

The economy may be turning the corner, but there’s still plenty of risk in your marketplace. In fact, volatility could be the key concern for most small and mid-sized businesses in the near-term. Rapid changes can leave you in a position that requires a significant investment just to keep pace with everyone around you. As a result, the ROI on business flexibility has never been higher. A swift change in your target market can have broad and deep implications for your business. Costs could escalate, despite your forecasts, squeezing your margins with little warning. Meanwhile, customers are expecting more value for their purchases, which adds pressure to sales and customer service teams. Throughout the financial supply chain, you could find cash balances and liquidity positions fluctuating rapidly. To help you manage this uncertainty, there’s no alternative to implementing a powerful and flexible ERP solution, particularly one that helps keep costs under control. SAP Business ByDesign can help your company in two fundamental ways. First, it provides the ERP capabilities you need to hone your company’s strategic edge, manage the financial supply chain more carefully, and identify opportunities to lower your costs or capitalize on customer demand. At the same time, the on-demand software delivery model obviates the need for an IT infrastructure investment and simplifies your overall business operations, resulting in both hard- and soft-dollar cost savings. In today’s economic climate, you need to be ready or anything. Whether it’s the fear of a precipitous decline or a wave of economic growth that opens new markets, the ability to react quickly and appropriately will define your industry’s leaders. With SAP Business ByDesign, you’ll have the tools you need to gain a competitive advantage, without having to over-invest in ERP.
The economy may be turning the corner, but there’s still plenty of risk in your marketplace. In fact, volatility could be the key concern for most small and mid-sized businesses in the near-term. Rapid changes can leave you in a position that requires a significant investment just to keep pace with everyone around you. As a result, the ROI on business flexibility has never been higher.

A swift change in your target market can have broad and deep implications for your business. Costs could escalate, despite your forecasts, squeezing your margins with little warning. Meanwhile, customers are expecting more value for their purchases, which adds pressure to sales and customer service teams. Throughout the financial supply chain, you could find cash balances and liquidity positions fluctuating rapidly.

To help you manage this uncertainty, there’s no alternative to implementing a powerful and flexible ERP solution, particularly one that helps keep costs under control.

SAP Business ByDesign can help your company in two fundamental ways. First, it provides the ERP capabilities you need to hone your company’s strategic edge, manage the financial supply chain more carefully, and identify opportunities to lower your costs or capitalize on customer demand. At the same time, the on-demand software delivery model obviates the need for an IT infrastructure investment and simplifies your overall business operations, resulting in both hard- and soft-dollar cost savings.

In today’s economic climate, you need to be ready or anything. Whether it’s the fear of a precipitous decline or a wave of economic growth that opens new markets, the ability to react quickly and appropriately will define your industry’s leaders. With SAP Business ByDesign, you’ll have the tools you need to gain a competitive advantage, without having to over-invest in ERP.


Five Ways You Can Put Your Customers First

Competition is tougher than ever, due in large part to higher customer expectations. After two years of difficult economic conditions—which have left an enduring impression—every dollar you earn will require greater effort and responsiveness. Customers expect as much value as possible for every dollar they part with. Your ability to gain an edge in the market will depend on how well you can connect with your customers and maintain their loyalty. The stakes are high. For small and mid-sized businesses, long without sufficient CRM capabilities to compete against larger companies, there are resources you can use to succeed. With SAP, you can implement the CRM features you need to protect your customer base and attain profitable growth. This starts with putting your customer first, and here are five ways you can accomplish that: 1. Identify opportunities: customer demand isn’t always obvious. Use your SAP CRM solution to identify cross-sell, up-sell, and upgrade opportunities. 2. Manage your pipeline: don’t let leads fall through the cracks. Increase responsiveness through better tracking and information management, and you’ll ensure that you have the most productive conversations with existing and potential customers. 3. Monitor service levels: look for trends and isolated incidents that could lead to bigger problems down the road and remedy them in advance. Take early action to keep your customers happy and protect your company’s brand. 4. Keep it all in one place: use centrally stored information and functionality to ensure that data is always accessible. Monitor employee performance, spot check business units, and identify opportunities for improved service or additional sales. 5. Get answers fast: use your SAP CRM solution to as a knowledge resource. Your customer care team can search for solutions to customer problems, remedying problems directly and quickly. A happy customer keeps coming back.


Use ERP to Move Your Company Forward

Everybody’s looking for an edge—probably because they’re so hard to come by. In today’s business environment, it can be challenging to find a competitive advantage. When you do, you can bet it won’t last long. You have to remain vigilant, therefore, always keeping an eye on the market and your business for the opportunities that can propel your organization to the front of the pack. To do this, you need an intimate familiarity with every corner of your company: this starts with your ERP solution. ERP has typically been a difficult proposition for small and mid-sized companies. The cost and complexity are high—both up front and on an ongoing basis. Thus, an elevated hurdle rate makes target ROI levels tough to attain. Bring the hard- and soft-dollar costs down, though, and it becomes a powerful tool for fueling profitable growth. With a robust ERP solution, such as SAP Business One, small and mid-sized companies can automate business processes, monitor operations, and optimize their financial supply chains—all of which contributes to wider margins, supports cost savings, and facilitates strategy execution. Further, the data collected enables carful and continual analysis based on the specifics of your company. You can learn more about what works and where your company could improve in order to gain additional advantages. SAP Business One is designed for small and mid-sized businesses, offering important, integrated ERP functionality without the attendant cost and complexity. With implementation taking as little as six weeks, it’s possible to accelerate savings and returns while minimizing business disruption. In the end, you get a framework for maintaining a competitive advantage through continual improvement … without having to invest disproportionately or set unrealistic ROI objectives.