Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Collaboration as a lifestyle

Posted: October 19, 2014 in Technology

Collaboration is one of those “buzz” words we’ve been hearing for many years now but the technology to empower that idea has only now really began to become more readily available.  If you’re not familiar with the term collaboration, think of it really as social networking for business.  Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have given us the ability to connect with people and share our thoughts and ideas and have them provide almost instant feedback on those thoughts and ideas.  You may have already started hearing collaboration being referred to as social networking for business and that really is a good way to look at it.  Today I’d like to discuss two tools that are currently available to us from Microsoft that have really changed the way I work with my other team members, Microsoft SharePoint and Lync.

Microsoft SharePoint has been around for many years but is only now becoming more and more popular due to the availability of it within cloud providers such as Office 365.  SharePoint makes it extremely easy for teams to be able to work together either in a general fashion or on specific projects by creating what are known as SharePoint sites.  Like a website, a SharePoint site is available via your web browser and is edited in a very familiar way just like you would a Microsoft Word document.  SharePoint in a basic way was designed to replace the use of file shares within a company but is so much more.  With SharePoint sites you are empowered as the “owner” of the site to give access to whom you need to share information and collaborate with.  Once you’ve granted access you can add things such as documents and organize them in folders just like you would on your local computer but the benefit is that the files become available to other members of your team and you anywhere within the organization (or in the case of Office 365, anywhere on the internet) securely from a web interface or natively within Microsoft Office applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.  Going beyond the basic features of file sharing you can do other things such as create team blogs or newsfeeds where you can discuss particular topics and comment/like the posts just like you would on a site such as Facebook.  As projects come up you can create “child-sites” of your main team site for that specific project and then once done archive or delete it.  It really provides a great central place to share information with other team members and many people find they end up setting their team site as their web browser’s home page.

Microsoft Lync may have previously been known to you as Microsoft Office Communicator or OCS for short.  Many people think Lync is just a tool for instant messaging like Skype or AOL Instant Messenger but it is quite a bit more.  At a basic level Lync is used by companies to provide instant communication within a company.  For many years people have used e-mail when the phone wasn’t convenient or accessible but, as I know I’ve experienced, one e-mail soon becomes twenty and next thing you know that simple e-mail became a long running chain.  Microsoft Lync empowers a person to be able to find anyone in the company and easily communicate with them either by instant messaging, by voice or even video.  The great thing about Lync is that if you and your colleague decide that an instant message isn’t really enough to be able to communicate your thoughts, with a click of a button you can add voice, video, or even screen sharing.  Many times I personally have been working on a task or project and needed input from another member of my team and with Lync I’ve been able to quickly reach them if they are available, share something on my screen, resolve the issue, and then go back to what I was doing.  The instant ability to communicate really saves a lot of time rather than having to setup a meeting or lookup someone’s phone number or start that chain of twenty e-mails.  Speaking of meetings though, Lync also provides us with a meeting space online that can be used both inside and outside of our company.  Microsoft Lync has a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook that allows you to easily insert your meeting information to a calendar invite by clicking a button on the toolbar.  Once your meeting time has arrived, participants simply click on the “Join Lync Meeting” link within the meeting invite and then can either join via a headset or speakerphone attached to their PC, have Lync call them at their desk or cell phone number, or even dial in to the meeting if they aren’t near their computer.  Within the meeting you can do the same things you can within a one person conversation such as instant message, voice or video chat, or share content such as your entire monitor or a PowerPoint presentation.

Having used both of these tools for the last year I can truly say it has made communicating with other members of my team a much easier experience and has really empowered us to work much more efficiently and effectively.  If you’re unfamiliar with these technologies, check with your manager or local IT resource and they can help guide you in accessing these tools.​ If you want to implement these tools for your own company I suggest looking in to Microsoft’s Office 365 online offerings. They have several versions available for small businesses as well as enterprises.

Tying in to my last post somewhat about trading privacy for the use of technology I wanted to talk about a topic very near and dear to all of our hearts, passwords.  Gone are the days of paying bills by mail, balancing your checkbook with a mailed bank statement, or even writing hand written letters.  Everything is online and with everything being online means that you have to have some piece of information to access the information stored on the internet.  In most cases this comes in the form of a username and password.

The problem with passwords, unless you’ve got the memory of an elephant, is you either end up using the same password or a small set of passwords for every site you access or even worse, you write them down on a piece of paper or store them in a plain old text file on your computer.  The tools hackers use are very sophisticated.  Used to we’d tell you as long as it’s over 8 characters and you have a special character in it, you’re fine.  Not really the case anymore.  The truth is, the longer and the more complex your password is, the better off you are.  I know you’re saying to yourself, “Well how do I come up with a password that long and even better yet, how do I remember it?”  Here’s a few things you can do to help strengthen your personal security posture.

First, one of the easiest ways to make better passwords is to utilize pass phrases instead of passwords.  Let’s say you have a website that allows for 20 character passwords you could utilize something like “Ihave3dogsIlove#2014”  Notice how this pass phrase really covers all our bases: it includes upper and lower case letters, it includes numbers, and it includes a special character.  The added benefit, it’s a phrase that you might could actually remember!  Keep in mind you still don’t want to use personal names or identifying information but even with that in mind a pass phrase can be a quick and easy win to helping secure your online information.

Secondly, enable multi-factor authentication.  What is multi-factor authentication you ask?  Multi-factor authentication goes back to the old saying of what you know, your username and password, and what you have, either a physical security token or something like a smart card.  Most people in their personal lives aren’t going to have smart cards but there are several methods you can use that are very similar.  Not all websites support this technology as of yet but what basically occurs is you enter your username and password as you normally do but after that you are then prompted for a security code.  In the past these codes were actually carried around on physical hardware tokens but today are available in the form of either a text message from the company or using an “authenticator” app such as Google Authenticator.  The text message option is very easy because it’s as simple as typing in the code you’re sent from the company you’re logging in with.  The authenticator option really isn’t that bad either as it requires you to simply download an app from your smart phone’s app store and then simply register with the website you are trying to login with.  Once you’ve registered the authenticator directly to the website it then generates a number string that changes every 30 seconds or so.  Using multi-factor authentication really is one of the best ways to go especially if you don’t want to have to try to use longer and longer passwords however not all websites and companies support it.  Here’s a great website thought that is constantly updated with the list of companies that do support some type of multi-factor authentication-

Lastly, and this is one that I went with, is to utilize an online password vaulting service.  Now let me put out a disclaimer that you should not utilize sites like this for your company passwords if you work for a corporation as most security policies frown on things like that but for your personal accounts, it’s great.  The tool I use is called “LastPass.”  Tools like LastPass include web plugins that work directly with your web browser to help you store your online account passwords as well as to help you with generating new passwords.  LastPass includes a random password generator to help you generate random, long strings of characters to use as passwords.  You may be asking yourself, “How am I going to remember strings of random characters?” the answer is with tools like LastPass, you don’t have to.  LastPass stores your passwords in their secure, encrypted database and then the plugin for your web browser then can either auto-fill your password when it’s time to login or you can copy and paste it from your password “vault.”  If you need access to your passwords on a computer that doesn’t have the plugin you can utilize the mobile app or their website.  LastPass also supports multi-factor authentication to help further secure your password vault.  There are many other tools out there like LastPass but in my opinion it is one of the better ones.  Give it a try, it’s free and if you refer a friend they give you free months of “premium” service which allows you access to the mobile app.  Here’s the link – LastPass

In closing, times are a changing.  In today’s day and time you really can’t afford to keep using your same old short, easy to remember passwords if you want to keep your personal information safe.  Sure, companies themselves can get hacked but that’s a topic for another day.  It’s up to us however to help protect our own data.  What do you have to lose, get to changing those passwords!

Everyone love’s technology these days, how could we live without it?  With the use of all the technology comes a price of a lack of privacy.  Have you ever noticed when you go in to a store that if you’re using an AT&T phone it might join “AT&T Wifi”?  To you the consumer it’s great because you don’t have to try to use your cellular data in the store and you think, “wow that’s nice of them to offer that service” but they have other motives.  Utilizing these free Wifi hotspots allows the store to track who is in their store (especially if you have that particular store’s app installed on your phone.)  For you, it’s a great convenience to have the Wifi service.  To the store it’s great because now they can track who comes in and out of their stores and when for marketing purposes.

Have you visited Disney World lately?  Disney now utilizes what they call “MagicBands” as the sole thing you need with you while visiting their parks.  These MagicBands act as your ticket, your “FastPass” for rides, and if you’re staying in a Disney resort it also acts as your room key and your charge card.  Now you may be saying, “That’s a great convenience!”  Well, you’re right it is (for you and for Disney.)  These MagicBands utilize RFID (radio frequency identification) similar to the proximity cards that most places use to access doors.  This technology, when scanned, allows Disney to also know exactly where you are at the point of use.  They can utilize this data to track your spending habits, ride preferences, you name it!  Again with more and more convenience comes the loss of more and more privacy.

So next time you get ready to use that “convenient” new technology, ask yourself, What privacy am I giving up to utilize this?

Food for thought!

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