It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it is a question many companies are asking today.  It’s a question that is particularly relevant to organizations that are currently mapping out their digital transformation as they attempt to both maximize their existing technology frameworks and monetize their technology investments.  The question applies especially to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).  ERP is the lifeline for many businesses today.  As such, it is the collective depository of shared databases that support multiple functions that are used by business units across the organization.  It provides the backend magic that powers so many business processes such as orders processing, pricing, billing, inventory and reporting. 

The Pros and Cons for Coupling the Two

The Advantages of Joining ERP & Web Platforms

The primary advantage of coupling your ERP and web platforms together is the apparent simplicity of consolidating them into one package.  That means one purchase decision, one implementation and one vendor to support it all.  Sounds nice, right? This approach has been popular since the early years of IT as IT centers focus on building large monolithic systems.  In fact, the practice of consolidating different component types is in vogue today as large networks are reducing their datacenter footprint and turning to hyper-converged infrastructure solutions.  HCI (Human Computer Interaction) consolidates the compute, storage and networking components of the datacenter into a single box, allowing admins to manage all components through a single pane of glass.  This manner of coupling different technologies is highly popular today as companies strive to simplify their network architectures. But coupling ERP and web platforms isn’t all rainbows and roses.

The Disadvantages of Joining ERP & Web Platforms

Consolidation has definite disadvantages. If you are old enough to remember the single-console entertainment systems of the early 90’s (the ones which combined TV, DVD and VCR) or the all-in-one boom boxes – it is easy to see the primary shortcoming of consolidation. No individual component can be upgraded without purchasing an entirely new console.  While coupling platforms through HCI has great benefits, it’s able to do so by commoditizing the technology of each component. 

ERP, however, is not commoditized.  It is a highly complex business process management system with proprietary elements and intricate dependencies.  Coupling it with a web platform simply adds to this complexity, greatly restricting the ability to scale out.  Changing web technologies and upgrading the ERP platform can also pose issues that negatively impact web and mobile applications.  Because of this, new release frequencies are reduced which in turn limits new functionality innovation.  This doesn’t bode well at a time when agility and nimbleness create huge competitive advantages.

The Pros and Cons for Decoupling the Two

The Advantages of Decoupling ERP & Web Platforms

The speed of innovation today far outpaces the upgrade processes and traditional software development practices of yesterday.  That is why so many organizations use the new approach of DevOps in order to increase an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services. Under DevOps, developers can work in unison to create and upgrade separate features which speed the velocity of development and deployment.  By decoupling your ERP and web platforms, developers can work independently and in parallel.  This modular approach allows for subtle differences to be made without worrying about dependencies or corresponding changes to the other end.  This can greatly increase a company’s operational efficiency and agility, giving it the ability to respond to changing needs in quick fashion.  Decoupling also increases resiliency as down time on one platform does not affect the other. 

The Disadvantages of Decoupling ERP & Web Platforms

Decoupling does introduce some drawbacks, however.  When you decouple your web platform, it often means that more vendors are involved, increasing the complexity of communication and responsibility.  Also, implementation and initial costs can be higher as more players are involved.  Higher costs are seen on the front end and are offset by a lower cost of ownership because of the increase in flexibility and increase in the rate of innovation.  Organizations that choose to decouple should also plan on an influx of personnel with the web development skills required to build and maintain the platform. 

Sorting Through Your Organization’s Individual ERP Situation

The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer to the question at hand; only an answer that is best for your particular situation.  It depends on what your business’s processes and goals are, and how each path lines up with your organization’s particular requirements. 

Have questions? Please feel free to reach out to us. We stand ready to listen to your business and technology challenges and help you find the right solution for your business.


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Which of the Big 3 Cloud Service Providers is Best for Me and Why Choose One Over the Other?

To say that the cloud has played a transformational role in redesigning enterprise architecture today would be a vast understatement.  While early pioneers of cloud computing primarily used it for testing environments, companies with fluctuating workload demands soon began incorporating it for cloud bursting where the cloud served as a natural extension of the datacenter.  Today, companies of all sizes and industries are realizing the flexibility, scalability and redundant nature of the cloud and the vast majority of enterprises utilize the cloud to some degree.

The Big 3

Just like the American auto industry, there is a big three in the cloud computing industry as well.  Those players are AWS (owned by Amazon), Azure (owned by Microsoft) and Google Cloud.  All of them offer Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) cloud models as well as additional offerings such as backup, disaster recovery and active directory federation services.   For those considering cloud computing from one of the three giants, the obvious question arises, which one is better?  In some ways that is like debating Ford vs. Chevy or LeBron James and Michael Jordon.  There isn’t a clear winner.  That doesn’t mean however that one of these cloud providers isn’t a better fit for your particular organization.  Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each of these big name cloud providers.

AWS

Think of AWS (Amazon Web Services) as the grandfather of cloud service providers, even though it has only been around since 2006.  It was the first, and its head start has helped ensure that it remains the biggest, at least for now.  Not only does AWS have a substantial lead in market share over its competitors, AWS offers a more mature feature-rich environment as well.  It also has more data centers, giving it greater reach across the globe.  All of this together supports increased scalability and resiliency. 

One can’t discuss AWS without recognizing the elephant in the room.  Amazon is a conglomeration of so many businesses across multiple industries and many companies in need of cloud services compete with them.  One could argue that by contracting with AWS as your cloud provider, you are in fact indirectly funding your competition.  Along the same line, many independent pizza chains switched from Pepsi to Coke back in the 80’s and 90’s to stop funding their chief competitor, Pizza Hut who at the time was owned by Pepsi. Many companies, especially those in the retail industry, are starting to question the wisdom of turning toward AWS.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft has a history of being late to the game, but once they sit down to play, they go all-in and catch up quickly, oftentimes leaving their original competitors in the dust.  Azure is the runner up in cloud computing and Microsoft is pouring resources into the platform.  Consequently, its growth rate is outpacing that of AWS.   While AWS does offer Windows platforms, Azure does it better.  Azure can serve as a direct extension of your datacenter, allowing you to migrate to the cloud a little at a time instead of all at once.  It also makes backups and disaster recovery far simpler.  Microsoft will also allow you to transfer some of your existing on-prem licenses when you move to Azure.

As hybrid architectures have become highly popular, many companies are implementing Azure Stack, a turn-key solution that creates a single complete ecosystem for both your public and private clouds.  The advantage? You can easily manage resources within both environments through a single interface. This unified approach greatly simplifies software deployment as developers can deploy new applications to either public or on-premise as both programming platforms are identical.  A unified platform means your developers do not have to learn a new platform to create and modify code for cloud applications. Azure simply utilizes the same Visual Studio and .Net environments developers are already accustomed to working with. Applications can also be bounced back and forth between testing and production environments.

Google Cloud

Boasting the dominant internet search engine in the world has not provided Google with any inherent advantage for its cloud hosting services.  Google Cloud ranks a distant #3 in market share and has a long way to catch up.  One of its primary benefits is its lower price structure compared to its competitors. If you’re willing to commit long-term, you can expect better pricing and discounts.  Another advantage that differentiates Google Cloud is its openness for customization of compute instances.  On the downside, Google Cloud is criticized for its lack of support for native party backup services.  So who’s using Google Cloud? Currently it’s very popular among schools and other types of organizations that use Chrome devices. 

Other Cloud Considerations

When researching the big 3 cloud service providers, consider the size of your organization, application platforms and budgets:

  • AWS and Google Cloud are highly popular among smaller organizations, but Azure has a far stronger presence when it comes to enterprise customers.  Why? Microsoft has been serving the enterprise business community for most of its existence so they are very familiar with enterprise workloads and architectures. 
  • While AWS and Google Cloud had a clear advantage serving organizations that utilize open-source technologies, Microsoft now fully supports Linux, Java and PHP application platforms and provides complete open-source ecospheres for developers to test Linux and other open source components.  
  • Of course cost is always a big consideration, but an apples-to-apples cost comparison is difficult to determine since each company utilizes different pricing models and formulas.  AWS used to charge for computing by the hour while Azure charged by the minute, making Azure’s pricing more precise.  And AWS recently announced a change in its pricing to per-second billing. The cloud services landscape is ever-evolving.

Summarizing the Cloud

All three cloud service providers have their individual strengths and offer a solid product.  While there is no clear winner, Azure has some inherent advantages for many organizations that are hard to beat. 


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As online retailing continues to grow exponentially, retailers find themselves facing new sets of problems that weren’t indicative of the in-store shopping experience of yesterday.   Two weeks ago, Nike cited industry research that shows that roughly 60 percent of consumers are wearing the wrong shoe size.  This is a significant problem for the athletic shoe giant because many online shoppers overcome the challenge of finding a proper-fitting shoe by purchasing multiple sizes of their desired shoe online and then returning the ones that didn’t fit.  Trying on multiple pairs of shoes in the comfort of your home is definitely a great way to find the perfect fit, but it is also a very cumbersome and expensive solution. 

For one, it’s inconvenient for the customer to order and pay for multiple pairs of shoes and then go through the process of returning the ones that they don’t want. For retailers like Nike, it increases their cost since they have to process a much higher number of returns and credit customer accounts.

Technological Innovation Helps Better Serve Customers (and Improve the Bottom Line)

In order to save costs and better serve its customers, Nike introduced a smartphone app that uses augmented reality (AR) to perform a highly accurate scan of one’s foot utilizing a smartphone camera.  By mapping out a morphology of both feet, the customer is assured that the size ordered is the only one necessary.  This innovative technology builds the level of trust that shoe buyers have in Nike which helps solidify brand loyalty. 

What’s more, Nike saves the foot map results in the customer’s profile for later use.  This insight into the customer’s foot physiology has a number of business benefits for Nike including building personal relationships that retailers are striving to create with each customer in order to better succeed in a hyper-competitive retail environment.  Nike’s undertaking is part of a massive trend in the retail sector as 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store by 2020 according to Gartner, Inc.

AI Helps You Learn About Your Customer

The first commandment of retail is “Know thy Customer.”  To better understand your customer, you need information and a way to process and interpret that information.  This is where AI and cloud service providers such as Azure come into play.  According to a McKinsey study, AI could potentially generate $4 billion to $8 billion in annual revenue for the global retail economy as well as $2 to $5 billion in consumer goods.  A greater insight into shoppers means a greater ability to convert them into regular customers.  That is the power of AI.  AI and the data gleaned can:

  • Increase promotion efficiency
  • Cultivate personal relationships with your customers
  • Innovate and develop new products
  • Increase sales transactions
  • Reduce customer complaints
  • Build brand loyalty

Chatbots and Azure

Chatbots are also growing more prevalent every day in the retail industry. Retailers are using Azure’s Bot Service and Framework to service customers more effectively and efficiently.  Modern bot software today relies on a growing stack of technology and tools in order to deliver increasingly complex experiences that users now demand. 

Gartner has stated that 25 percent of customer service and support operations will integrate chatbot technology by 2020, up from just 2 percent in 2017.  They also believe that within a few years, chatbots will power 85 percent of all customer service interactions.  In fact, by then, they predict that the average consumer will have more conversations with chatbots than with their spouse! Juniper Research estimates that by 2023, 75 percent of all chatbot interactions will be retail-based.  Why? Because the retail sector is one of the most promising sectors for automated agents with huge upside revenue potential. What’s better? Implementing this technology costs less in the retail sector. 

Many online shoppers have experienced chatbots first-hand; but chatbots aren’t limited to online commerce alone.  Large box retailers and shopping malls are integrating them in order to help customers locate and direct them to products on the shelf.   One example is the Mall of America that services 400 million people a year.  The mall’s chatbot is accessible through a number of alternative mediums and helps customers locate retail and restaurant establishments in real-time.  It can even makes suggestions or connect the shopper with a mall associate for additional information.  The integration of online AI-driven tools within the brick-and-mortar environment creates an omni-channel retail experience for the shopper in which they can experience consistent service throughout all of their shopping interactions.  This omni-channel strategy allows consumers to purchase wherever they are, whenever they want – and stay in constant communication.

Sentiment Analysis and Gesture Recognition

The ability to determine what your customers may want before they are even fully certain would be a huge competitive advantage for any retailer.  This requires the ability to understand the opinions or sentiment of shoppers.  The good news is that consumers today express their sentiments everyday through social channels, text messages, chatbots, tweets, online reviews, etc.  One of the ways that Microsoft Azure offers this capability is through text analysis. By analyzing these sentiments, retailers can fine-tune their suggestive marketing strategies when they come in contact with customers. 

Retailers are also integrating apps and kiosks into their stores in order to serve customers more efficiently.  Taco Bell was able to increase their average order transaction by 20 percent by encouraging customers to use its app rather than human cashiers.  Cinemark Theater’s use of self-service kiosks increased concession spending per person for 32 straight quarters.  Kiosks are even more effective when AI technology is integrated with facial and/or gesture recognition.  With facial recognition, frequent customers are instantly identified as they approach a kiosk or storefront. The technology then offers suggestions based upon known shopping history.  And gesture recognition enables shoppers to find their preferred products with a simple wave of the hand using a touchless device.

Moving Forward in Retail

No facet of retail has been untouched by the technological disruption in recent years.  AI helps give the insight you need to create seamless and effortless experiences with customers.  By better understanding your customers you help build customer relationships with your brand. Ultimately this brand loyalty reduces the likelihood that your customers shop elsewhere.  What’s more, the efficiencies that AI brings to your operations helps reduce costs that will add to your business’ profitability.  The digital transformation of the retail sector has already begun.  Now it’s time to fully embrace it. 


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How to choose the best tool for your business or IT project

Whether it’s a medical test, a college entrance exam or a fitness test, testing isn’t fun.  Software testing isn’t any different – it isn’t much fun for developers who manually test newly created code for a new application their team creates or updates.  It’s easy to omit testing, but impossible to have a viable software product without it. As much as we would like developers to just get it right the first time, it isn’t going to happen, and it’s not necessarily their fault.

Developers often have little more than an agile user story to work on. Confusion and complexity can grow as different visions of the product are expressed by multiple stakeholders. Developers can’t be expected to crank out an end-product and get it right the first time.  Couple this with the constant tinkering nature of an agile-based project, and it’s easy to understand just how important continuous testing is.

Manual Testing Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

The human nature of software development dictates the need for rigorous testing.  So why would you use manual testing that incorporates the human element as well? Consider the magnitude and scope of testing required today for different applications.  Tests need to be performed for a variety of environments and different data sets. For instance, a web application must be tested in multiple platforms using varying device types, browsers and form factors.  

Automated Testing Should be the New Standard in Testing

Automated testing can simulate workloads representing anywhere from one user to thousands of users; and it goes far beyond the limitations of manual testing.  And when testing is automated it can be conducted endlessly and unattended. There’s no fatigue and the cost is minimal compared to hiring manual testers. Quality assurance automation executes the full gamut of tests you need, when you need them and with increased speed and quality.  Another great benefit? It reports the outcomes and comparative results versus previous assessments.

Different Types of QA Testing and Testing Scenarios

There are many aspects to a successful application, and therefore more than one type of testing to accommodate them.  In the end of course, it’s all about determining if the code behaves as expected.

  • Unit Test – A unit test focuses on a single unit of code such as a function in an object or module.  These tests are short and quick to run. They are especially useful when modifying existing code.
  • Test-Driven Development (TDD) – TDD is more of a development process than a testing process.  TDD breaks up the project into small repetitive development cycles. A cycle represents a minimum amount of new code that must then pass a specific test.  New code is added only if the test failed and is then retested. This process not only creates error free code, but streamlines it as well.
  • Behavior-Driven Development (BDD) – BDD focuses on the business behaviors that the code is implementing.  This is the “why” behind the code. Also referred to as acceptance testing, it helps determine if the requirements for the end user as conceived are indeed met.

Popular Automated Testing Tools Today

Selenium

First released in 2004, Selenium is one of the most popular automated software tools for browser-based web programs.  It is an open source solution and thus has no licensing costs. It accommodates multiple programming languages including Java, Python, C#, PHP, Ruby, Pert and .Net.  Tests can be conducted within the Windows, Mac or Linux operating systems and it supports multiple browsers including Firefox, IE, Chrome, Safari and Opera. With Selenium, you can be assured that your web application behaves as expected under both normal operation flows and unexpected user behaviors.  

Behat

Behat is an open source BDD testing tool for PHP. It’s used to help define how your application should behave in different scenarios.  It utilizes continuous example-based communication between developers and business stakeholders that all parties can easily understand. Every application has a list of documented actions and Behat verifies them by auto-testing them against the application itself.

BrowserStack

Created for testing mobile web applications, it is a cloud-based automated testing platform that incorporates more than 2,000 environments including various mobile devices, browsers and operating systems.  It utilizes mobile emulators of both Apple iOS and Google Android and can be utilized for continuous integration or cross-browser testing.

Cucumber

Cucumber is another BDD tool that focuses on the end-user experience and can serve as a bridge between business and technical professionals.  It supports multiple languages including Ruby, Java, Scala, Groovy and .NET. Like Behat, Cucumber is written in the Gherkin format that uses simple English and is especially user-friendly to non-programmers. It’s so user-friendly that test scripts can be written by those without any prior coding experience.

We’re only scratching the surface here because new automated testing solutions are readily being introduced and expanded upon.  There is no “one perfect” tool out there as every environment is different. When choosing an automated testing tool, consider the type of tests you’ll be conducting, the language you’re working with and ultimately the type of application you’re looking to test. Automating the QA process will soon be mainstream, so it’s best to brush up on the various tools and start thinking about how you can implement QA automation in your company.

Not convinced you’ll get the ROI your business is looking for? Check out our QA Automation ROI Calculator to find out.


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Building the right cloud environment to meet business objectives

You’ve probably heard the old saying, “He’s got his head in the clouds,” right? Well today, businesses have a whole lot more in the cloud. According to a 2018 article in CIO magazine, 96 percent of businesses today now use the cloud in some capacity.  Businesses are using the cloud, but they are turning to more than one provider. 81 percent use a multi-cloud strategy.  Even SMBs are embracing the cloud. According to the IDC, more than 90 percent of companies between 100 and 499 employees used the cloud in 2018.  The fact is, cloud computing is a very viable alternative to on-prem computing, and while the two approaches have many things in common, it’s a different world up in the cloud.  Cloud computing utilizes different terminology and protocols supported by completely different architectures.

Multi-cloud, Hybrid Cloud, Hybrid IT

For a startup company today, the cloud is a natural choice, maybe even a no-brainer.  Since cloud computing is based on a variable cost model in which you only pay for the cloud resources you use, the cloud can save companies struggling for capital a great deal of capital expenditure.  The cloud is also perfect because it isn’t geocentric, thus increasing the flexibility and agility of the organization and its users. For companies that already have substantial investment in on-premise environments and data centers, it is unrealistic to simply transition everything to the cloud overnight.  In those instances, a hybrid approach makes sense. A hybrid environment incorporates both on-premise and cloud architectures. Despite the apparent simplicity in all of this, cloud terminology can become confusing so let’s break down some of the basic architectural terminologies.

Multiple Cloud Environment

As its name implies, this refers to the utilization of two or more clouds.  They could be two public clouds such as Azure and AWS or a public cloud and private cloud.  This includes both cloud computing and cloud storage in a single heterogeneous architecture.  The utilization of multiple cloud services offers great flexibility since some cloud environments are more suitable for particular tasks.   It also increases reliability and redundancy while minimizing the risk of vendor lock-in.

Hybrid Cloud

A hybrid cloud is actually a multiple cloud environment consisting of a public and on-premise private cloud.  A good example is Azure Stack which allows you to host resources and services both on-prem and in Azure from a single interface.  A hybrid cloud is ideal for companies that rely on cloud bursting in order to accommodate unpredictable workloads or must host some resources on-premise in order to adhere to industry or government compliance standards. The hybrid cloud offers the flexibility provided by self-provisioning on-demand capabilities of the cloud while retaining full control and management of data and applications when desired.  

Hybrid IT

Most companies that have an existing legacy infrastructure find that not everything in their enterprise is cloud-ready.  That is where Hybrid IT comes in to play. Hybrid architectures incorporate a traditional on-premise datacenter with one or more clouds.  This wide offering of architectures allows organizations to align business objectives with the best available IT solutions.

Azure vs. AWS

AWS and Azure are the two big players on the block when it comes to cloud computing.  AWS was the first cloud player on the market back in 2006 and its headstart gave it a huge advantage over any future competitors.  It would be years later until Microsoft would compete for market share, but the company has a history of entering late and turning up the burners to catch up.  Microsoft has indeed done that with Azure and its solution is growing at an exponential rate, although AWS is still sizably larger.

Both solutions have competitive advantages over one another.  For those companies that utilize open source technology, AWS has been the prime choice as Azure, up until recently, had a large void in open source.  If you are a Microsoft shop and already utilize Windows Active Directory, SQL Server or Visual Studio, then Azure is a natural choice for its familiarity and compatibility.  While Azure is extremely popular amongst C# developers, those who work with other languages such as Node.js, Python or Ruby on Rails gravitate to AWS. It’s also a predominant choice for those that work with Linux and other database platforms.  Azure has a strong concentration of enterprise customers as Microsoft has vast experience working directly with large companies. Much of the initial growth of AWS was due to smaller organizations although it has made great strides in the corporate market recently.

Cloud Computing Trends

Businesses aren’t looking for a specific cloud provider.  They are looking for solutions to business problems. Because no two cloud service providers are the same, companies will continue to utilize multiple providers in order to align business objectives with the best solutions.  

Other trends in the cloud computing market:

  • Up until recently, cloud computing was restricted to the DevOps world and testing environments, but more and more production workloads are being migrated to the cloud today.
  • Artificial intelligence (A)I supported by Internet of Things (IoT) sensory technology will continue to play a growing role in cloud computing due to its scalability and centralized architecture.
  • Voice interaction is becoming a major focus as developers greatly accelerate its use in apps.  Amazon holds a clear lead in this facet thanks to Alexa.
  • Both AWS and Azure are unveiling a serverless computing paradigm in which clouds simply execute snippets of code without bothering developers with provisioning underlying infrastructure.

When it comes to cloud computing, there is no “one” right solution, just as there is no absolute choice between Dell or HP when it comes to physical servers.  Cloud computing is simply about finding the best solution at hand, for the task at hand, and AWS and Azure both have the solutions to accomplish this.


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Introduction

As a small business, you have enough challenges keeping your head above water and focusing on how to grow. Navigating the digital world can be complex if you don’t understand the various channels and what you should focus on to get the most bang for your buck.  Even if you do understand the technologies, how do you find enough time in the day to do it all?  In this paper we will give you a concise list of things you can easily do to boost your business by leveraging the power of digital with web, social, and mobile.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, businesses that make use of the web expect to grow 40% faster than those that don’t.  And according to Google, 97% of consumers go online to look for local products, yet only 37% of US small businesses have an online presence.  Increasingly, the web is important, but so is making use of social media and mobile technology to engage  with your potential customers.

If digital technologies like web, social media and mobile are so important, then why don’t all small businesses make use of them?  There are several reasons that include perceived cost associated with doing it, not having enough time, or believing that it’s just too complicated.  Lucky for you, there is plenty of help to address the complexities of digital while also managing your time challenges.  There are marketing services companies that cater to small business needs.  It’s also less expensive than you think, especially if you can pay for it with the increased sales that you can enjoy.

So let’s get to it – here are our top tips for digital success.  

Responsive Design

 

1.  Have an online presence with a responsive design

Since consumers are going online to search for businesses, unless you have a website you will not be found!  Consumers will go to your competitors if they are easier to find.  A couple of other things to consider are optimizing your site for relevant keywords that consumers may be searching on and making sure you have a responsive design. By having the right information and content on your website, you will help your company be found when consumers are searching.  

A responsive design simply means that your site is optimized for viewing and interaction across different types of devices (computer, tablet, mobile).  The site will be easy to navigate, read, and interact with, taking into account the different screen sizes that your web site can be accessed from.  Also consider the user experience.  They want to be able to access the information in as few clicks as possible.  So, put yourself in the user’s shoes when designing your website – easy to navigate equals better engagement for you.  Clunky or disorganized websites will result in potentially lost sales opportunities or your user exiting the site.

 

Google Ad

  1. Get your business on Google

Getting your business listed on Google is another important step to getting found online.  Google My Business helps you get listed on Google and also provides key information such as business overview, hours of operation, phone number, and address.  For users using their mobile, they can use Maps to get directions and click to call.  Consumers can also leave ratings and reviews of your business.

 

  1. Advertise online to drive traffic

These days, advertising online has also become important to drive new customers to your business.  It’s fairly easy to set up an advertising CPC campaign on Google.  With Google Adwords, you can specify whether you want your ad to be local and what specifically you want to advertise.  Google provides tools to help you decide which keywords to advertise, setting up budgets, and managing the whole campaign.  And the good part is that you only pay if someone clicks on your ad.  There can be potentially many more people that see your ad and read it, but you don’t pay unless they click.  It’s important to track how much business is resulting from your advertising budget and make regular adjustments as needed to get the most out of it.  

  1. Use social media to connect with your customers

The top social media platforms you should consider are Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, and Pinterest.  You don’t have to be on all of the social media channels, but the ones that make the most sense for your audience.  It gives you an opportunity to build loyalty with your customers and connect with them outside of your normal business interaction.  It also provides an avenue for you to then share what’s new with your business, advertise specials, and foster a loyal customer base that will keep coming back.

 

use mobile

  1. Use Mobile

We already talked about a responsive design that helps you interact with customers that are on different devices such as tablets.  That will also help you for customers using mobile.  Increasingly, consumers are using their phones to make purchases, search for local businesses, and using click to contact the businesses directly.

People are also spending more and more time on their mobile compared to other devices.  Their mobile is always within reach.  If it makes sense for your business, you should also consider mobile advertising, such as SMS, MMS, or banner.

  1. Use analytics to understand and improve

Now that you are online, advertising, and getting found by your customers, you need to understand if the money you are spending is giving you a return on your investment. Analytics will help you track and review data that is relevant to your business.  Best of all, Google Analytics is free!  You can track every click, measure every dollar, and get insights on the type of device that your customers are connecting with (mobile vs. desktop).  And by looking at how many conversions you have, the dollars of business that translated into, and how much you spent on advertising, you can tie it all together to ensure it is paying back.  You can also tell if your activities on social media are driving traffic to your website.  

Summary

Now you have the 6 top tips for succeeding in the digital world.  Perhaps you were already doing some but not all, now is a chance to dive into the rest of the digital initiatives.  Some of these tips are free to implement (Google My Business for example), so it won’t cost you a cent.  It will take an investment in time, but increasingly digital is the way to reach your target customers.  And if you can’t do it all yourself, there is plenty of help out there without breaking the bank.

 

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I meet business owners, marketers and digital folks everyday who try to gain new business, via the digital channel. When I say digital, I mean through their websites, mobile, social media presence, organic and paid search methods. I have to admit, there’s a lot of sophistication that marketers are using to launch their campaigns across various digital channels – and their spending big bucks to do it. But, I am surprised at the adoption rate of some marketers when it comes to measuring analytics correctly across these digital channels. Marketers tend to say, “I love digital because I can measure it”. Allegedly, digital methods conquered the question of where each marketing dollar actually goes. But when you get down into the weeds, you realize the measurement is half baked based on a few statistics – such as clicks, page views or other nonsensical stats.

By itself, your Adwords report is meaningless unless you know how much money those clicks made for your company. Your social media posts are great for perception but not much value if you don’t lead your followers to your business to buy, buy, buy. Your search optimization dollars are great, but do you know what happens when users reach your website? All in all, it doesn’t matter if you are number one in search if you are not making a high return on investment.

So how do you solve this problem? Here are a few key tips:

1. Spend some time ensuring that your analytics platform is installed properly and standardized across your organization.

2. Work with your agencies to define your requirements and goals of your website. Make sure those goals and conversions are correctly implemented on your site. Free and paid analytics products support this turnkey solution and this is an easy and critical component that will give you great data on what’s working.

3. Give dollar value to your goals and conversions. Attribution reports can tell you which channel is giving you the best bang for the buck.

4. When steps 1-2 are done, ensure that every campaign, post and banner follows a standard method to tracking. Use campaign parameters to ensure you can easily find your campaign in your analytics tool.

5. Analyze, analyze, analyze your data over time to see what is working what’s not.

6. Add more dollars to what’s working and ditch what’s not.

7. Make changes to your website and campaigns and then analyze, analyze, analyze some more.

In summary, digital has opened up multiple channels for us to market and attract new customers. But, in order to understand what is working and not working we need to be more sophisticated in how we measure. If you’re going to pay big bucks for a website, Adwords, social media presence, or even a simple banner, then challenge your agencies to confirm and provide data that show which of the strategies are working to meet your marketing goals. While clicks and page views are fine, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Savvy marketers should measure data that shows number of orders, number of sales leads, number of visitor inquiries and number of conversions.

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Social media has been a great tool for businesses. Facebook in particular has been used resourcefully in order to gain fans and boost interaction for a business. However, lately there have been several complaints to Facebook in regards to a decline in reach. According to Facebook, “Post reach is the number of people who have seen your post. Your post counts as reaching someone when it’s shown in News Feed. Figures are for the first 28 days after a post was created and include people viewing your post on desktop and mobile.” In the context of Facebook’s definition, reach seems greatly important when it comes to a businesses success and overall growth on Facebook. The question is, what can we do to ensure that our business pages are driving reach?

Let’s first look into why there has been such a decline in Facebook reach lately…

1. People are liking more pages than ever before- increasing the competition for exposure in the Newsfeed.

2. More and more content is shared on Facebook each day, making each person’s newsfeed more cluttered. More content is being made than the time able to absorb it all. On average, one person’s Facebook page can hold 1,500 – 15,000 stories on their NewsFeed. As a result, competition for exposure in the NewsFeed is increasing even further. You’re probably thinking “I definitely don’t see that many stories on my NewsFeed every day” and you are right – you don’t, which comes to my third point.

3. Facebook users do not see all of the new stories on their NewsFeed – Facebook chooses about 300 relevant stories based on relevancy to the viewer. So, there are a lot of posts (your businesses included) that aren’t shown on the NewsFeed.

Here are 4 simple steps to get you started in improving your reach:

1. Images aren’t the hype: While images were claimed to perform best for organic posts, they shouldn’t be your main focus.

2. Videos, videos, videos: Videos have seem to be the most effective organic post, next to text-only posts and links. Also, since not many pages have been posting videos, it comes up as a unique story – which Facebook’s algorithm seems to prefer.

3. Track which type of content resonates with your audience: The true trick is to study your insights that Facebook provides and see which type of post your specific audience prefers – it could be pictures, text-only, links, videos or a combination! Test out different variations of posts and analyze!

4. Don’t focus on using Facebook for reaches or to gain fans: Use Facebook to achieve specific business objectives. Organic content still holds a lot of substance on Facebook pages and can still make it to the top of the NewsFeed. Publish content that relates to your business and that is educational and entertaining.


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The one constant that we can rely on is change. The marketing world is not an exception – each year, month and day, there is a new marketing trend that is on the horizon. We as marketers should never stop learning (even though some of us said farewell to school many moons ago), because our industry is constantly changing. The material that was learned in textbooks back at school no longer apply, so it is time to re-dedicate ourselves to the world of innovation that brings disruption to entire industries.

Unfortunately, if you do not embrace these trends and learn how to leverage them, your business will get left behind with those yellow taxis. The following are the top 5 marketing and technology trends that we at Xcelacore believe you should embrace and put into your arsenal of business tools for the new year:

1. Marketing Automation: These technology platforms have become a must-have for large enterprises and increasingly important for small and medium enterprises as well. There are plenty of tools available to match the size of company, level of sophistication, and budget. Marketing automation tools will help you manage your marketing across multiple channels (email, social, web). Automation is essential to improving your conversions from leads to sales; automation speeds up the sales cycle and assists in engaging with your prospects in a personal way that matches their buying stage.

2. Analytics: Analytics provides the ability to find out which of your marketing activities are working and which are not. Without analytics, there is no way to understand your targeted reach, website engagement or how many users are converting into customers. Once you have the available data, you can then optimize your customer experience and begin gaining that much needed insight. There are several tools out there that can match your business needs from Google Analytics to Adobe Analytics.

3. Return on Investment (ROI): The ROI is paramount. In the early days of digital, it was all about experimenting with different channels (mobile, social, web) and advertisements to test about how your customers behave and engage. Now it’s time to tie the dollars you are spending on advertisements, and other marketing efforts, to real revenues. The way to do that is to have the right tools in place (such as marketing automation and analytics) to give you a view on your marketing campaigns. For example, if your spending $100/week on Google AdWords, do you know which convert and how much revenue they add? Or, if you are running an email campaign, do you know how many people followed up with a visit to your website, made a purchase or downloaded that Whitepaper?

4. Content is Key: While this was also true in 2015, we think content is important enough that it deserves to be in the top 5. Without quality content, inbound and thought leadership activities won’t get off the ground. You need informative, thought provoking, and educational content that is delivered to the right audience at the right time to be successful!

5. Focus on Mobile: The rise of mobile is increasing. With so many people checking emails, shopping, reading e-books, playing games, etc., it is important to heavily incorporate this new trend into your marketing strategy for 2016. According to mobileSQUARED, 90% of texts are read within 3 minutes of being delivered. An important insight to remember is that we multi-task with mobiles while watching TV, eating and doing other things that shall remain unmentioned – mobiles are always within reach and we feel naked without them.

Keep in mind that the 5 trends mentioned are only a few of the trends that will be seen in the upcoming year. Stay tuned to the Xcelacore blog and we will bring you more of the latest throughout next year. Happy New Year!


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