01 Apr 2018

The Cloud in Practice – a Guide for SMEs

The opportunities to use the cloud are countless and SMEs are, of course, seeking to use hosted workspace services that meet their individual needs. This will differ by sector – a manufacturing company will have different computing needs to a marketing agency for example.

However there are many commonalities to doing business no matter where your business focus lies and, unsurprisingly, it is in these areas the uptake of cloud-based computing has been highest.

This includes core services such as productivity applications – most notably Microsoft Office 365 and Dynamics 365, collaboration services and data time and money. Cloud-based email, website management and social media management tools are also commonly used by SMEs.

More specialised services such as customer relationship management (CRM), HR and accountancy applications are less prevalent at present although growing steadily in popularity. Though many organisations identify a need for these, the uptake to hosted applications is slow.

Needless to say security is also an issue that concerns many businesses hesitant from accepting hosted solutions as the way forward. More and more software providers, including Microsoft are now adopting the new philosophy with a focus on security: “mobile first, cloud first”.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 therefore becomes a cloud management solution that enables businesses to adopt the best features of CRM and ERP and to combine both services on a single platform under a single data model, but in a totally secure environment.

By moving to this solution, you can design and deploy across board, all customisations within the systems to Dynamics 365 for phone, tablet and web applications. Dynamics 365, Dynamics NAV and Dynamics CRM are available as on-premise installations or “in the Cloud” – also known as Software as a Service (SaaS).

The number one benefit of SaaS is that you can access the system anywhere you have an internet connection and your data is always up-to-date. Fast implementation, no internal system management responsibilities required nor expensive servers or operating system software and you can access the data from any device that supports internet browsing.

The potential risk of data security is greatly reduced. With Microsoft your data is in one of the most secure environments conceivable, and much more secure than hosting your own data on premise. Alternatively your data and applications can be hosted on third party secure digital workspace services with the same level of peace of mind. Citadel secure digital workspace, provided by Synergy Technology offers this alternative SaaS service.

Preparing to make the move to Cloud

It is possible overall cloud usage is understated as many businesses may be using cloud computing tools without even realising it. Also, with such rapid growth in the market, demand is changing all the time. If your business hasn’t already taken the plunge, maybe now is the time to at least be considering it.

There’s no doubt your organisation could transition totally to a cloud environment, delivering many significant business benefits from lower costs and easier scalability to complete mobility and added security. However, there are many options to consider when migrating to the cloud. To discuss how cloud technology would suit your business needs contact Synergy Technology today to get started.

Most prevalent applications

If you aren’t a technology professional then it’s likely you won’t be aware of the changes the industry’s biggest brands are making to their services to take advantage of the cloud. Here is a run-down of the more notable business packages that are now readily available via the cloud:

Productivity software – For a small business it’s possible to run your main business functions in the cloud. Your core productivity software such as email and Microsoft Office have cloud computing counterparts branded Dyamaics 365. If you run a creative business, Adobe Creative Cloud offers their software from the cloud.

Storage solutions – Buying a server is a big capital investment for a small company, but cloud storage is now a viable alternative.

Accountancy services – Accountancy software providers have been quick to offer services for the cloud. Small companies can buy Sage on subscription. For mid-sized companies consider Pegasus Business Cloud if you have more complex needs.

Marketing software – There’s a wide range of powerful software and applications that help the marketer. Of particular note is CRM software such as SuperOffice that helps companies manage their client and prospect interaction and relationships to develop existing business and win new business.

Bespoke applications – Hosted services such as Citadel provides the platform to develop and deploy bespoke cloud-based applications. Using Citadel enables smaller businesses to fully leverage the cloud’s power and create new services that give them a competitive edge.

Exploiting the cloud with your IT provider

The role of your IT provider will depend on how much cloud-based computing you are going to do and how complex your business is and its requirements are.

Synergy Technology can advise you on setting up cloud-based services including:

  • Citadel hosted secure workspace : Which provides SMEs with a flexible, scalable alternative to in-house IT systems.
  • Pegasus Business Cloud : A flexible, secure and reliable infrastructure which is used to host Opera 3.
  • Microsoft Azure: Microsoft’s hosting service for Dynamics 365, a cloud base solution that unifies business applications (sales, service, operations, marketing, and finance) into one business solution.

 

We can check whether your business software is compatible with hosting services. As any movement into the cloud is likely to be gradual, it is important you receive help integrating the new services with your other business processes, which may not be currently in the cloud.

Ultimately, your organisation can transition totally to a cloud environment, delivering many significant business benefits from lower costs and easier scalability to complete mobility and added security. However, there are many options to consider when migrating to the cloud. To discuss how cloud technology would suit your business needs contact Synergy Technology on 0345 456 0050 today to get started.

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28 Feb 2018

Keep your business afloat in bad weather

The sudden extreme weather that is causing disruption across the UK, prompts us to remind you of our article about adverse weather. Be it floods or snow, are you prepared? Tony Poole, the Managing Director of Synergy Technology warns not to be complacent, protecting valuable business data and reducing the risk of financial loss due to damage to IT equipment and the subsequent disruption to business is critical to SMEs, particularly in areas susceptible to flooding or affected by snow. It may happen again!

“The Environment Agency warns that climate change will increase the risk of more floods across the UK, leading to further problems for businesses and homeowners. Whether or not we can expect more frequent adverse weather conditions, business owners must remember it only takes a single disaster to potentially wipe out the whole business with the damage it can cause.” warns Tony.

“Even if a flood is not necessarily on your doorstep and whether or not water damage is destroying your premises, it may affect the power supply to your business or accessibility to your office for your workforce. It is also important to remember that supplier catastrophes are as critical as your own, so know your supply chain too. It is therefore essential to consider how prepared you are to avoid an interruption to the daily running of your business, and the long term financial effects that adverse weather may cause to your business.

Many of these problems can be avoided by ensuring you are well prepared and that your systems are set up to cater for unexpected interruptions to the running of your business due to natural disasters.”

Based on his own client experience, here are Tony’s 10 useful tips to avoid disruption to your business due to flooding or adverse weather condition.

Ten Top Tips to keep your business afloat in the next floods.

TIP ONE :
Back up and storage of critical data

It is important to instil a regular data backup procedure. Power cuts, flooding and energy shortages will cause disruption, but preparation is key. As long as staff know in advance what to do if the worst happens, data can be saved. For organisations, a solid data backup plan is the best way to keep critical data protected; establishing a relationship with a trusted data recovery provider should also be an integral part of any disaster recovery plan.

Conduct a data assessment. Know your high-value data assets – where your customer information and other sensitive data is stored, which files are heavily used, who is using them and which departments and teams they align with. Try to restore data on a quarterly basis.

Prioritise what data you need to have on hand after a disaster and who will need to have access to it. And don’t neglect laptops, as most people do. Most disaster recovery plans are focused on protecting just the office server and business data stored at data centres.

Remember – never assume that data is irrecoverable. Professional data recovery services offer the expertise and tools required to recover data quickly and successfully.

TIP TWO :
Make sure critical applications are also accessible

Not only does your business data need to be backed up and accessed during a flood crisis, but business applications too. Make sure critical applications are also accessible. Protecting your data is not enough if you want to keep the business running during an event that causes downtime. Ensure critical applications can be virtualised in the cloud and are licenced for use in different locations or from different hardware and devices, should you have to change the location and computer equipment used, if your business office and IT equipment is affected by floods.

TIP THREE :
Keep sensitive electronic equipment high and dry!

It might seem obvious, but if your office is susceptible to the risk of flooding, keep IT equipment and cables at a reasonable height off the ground and store critical equipment on higher levels, i.e. first floor or second floor. Make sure that your team switch off and disconnect computers and electronic equipment at the end of the working day, leaving only the vital systems operating.

TIP FOUR :
Secure your data by using offsite servers

SMEs can actually improve their disaster preparedness by adopting a hosted workspace and cloud data storage which also greatly improves backup costs, recovery of data and boosts performance, and also reduces the requirement for office-based critical IT support.

Store business data in a secure cloud or hosted workspace and keep backups off site, in a safe location. How far off site depends on the risks you are worried about. Essentially, you are putting your business operational network into a hosted cloud environment and it is then delivered to you on-demand. The onus of responsibility for security, updates, redundancy, and failover and business continuity then rests with your hosted provider.

Cloud storage and hosted workspace providers such as Citadel digital workspace and cloud services, takes away the requirements for an in-house server and subsequent in-house maintenance and server-based IT support. Desktop hardware can be replaced with the most up-to-date hardware or mobile devices available on the market offering significant additional cost benefits and user flexibility.

TIP FIVE :
Reduce the risk of damage to IT and computer equipment

By implementing a hosted workspace you immediately reduce the computer hardware and IT equipment required onsite in your office and you can operate your business using much less desktop hardware. Therefore much less computer equipment is at risk of water damage due to flooding.

Most business applications for users delivered via virtual desktops have very minimal requirements, so any laptop or mobile device with internet access is likely to be able to access the virtual workspace.

TIP SIX :
Adopting a virtual environment where your team can work from any location

Creating a flexible workspace is king. By adopting a mobile workspace for employees, users of a hosted workspace can gain a full desktop experience from Internet-enabled devices as varied as tablets, smartphones or their home computers.

Your business programs, applications and data delivered from the virtual desktop can therefore be accessed from any location – not just the office, so employees can even work from home.
If flood risk is imminent, encourage workers to take their laptops, work phones and other vital equipment home each night.

If creating a mobile office solution works for your business, just make sure in advance that your employees have a suitable Wi-Fi connection at home and that your insurance policies cover both the employees and company equipment when working from home.

TIP SEVEN :
Prepare a back-up workspace for business

In the case of flooding or a similar disaster affecting your office, if your employees still need to work collaboratively from one location, then ensure you have access to an alternative office location. Temporary office space leases are available with options to access:

  • Executive meeting room access
  • Wi-Fi, IT and phone support
  • Reception services

 

So make sure you have already a record of suitable temporary office services (think carefully about their location) which have the capacity to meet your business needs and can offer you office space at short notice.

TIP EIGHT :
Keep things running

When storms and other natural disasters strike, small businesses are especially vulnerable to power outages. While larger companies may have multiple locations that can pick up the slack while operations at one site shut down, the same is usually not true for the typical small business, particularly businesses in rural locations where the priority for reconnection may be lower than for nearby town centres.

Small businesses can combat these potential issues by installing a generator. Two basic varieties of generators are available. Automatic, or standby, generators that are permanently connected to a building’s electrical system. When the power shuts down, those generators automatically detect the problem and restore power to the building. On the other hand, portable, or backup, generators run on gasoline or diesel and have to be manually installed once a power outage occurs. While automatic generators require little or no work for the business owner, portable generators are typically less expensive.

TIP NINE :
Prepare a Crisis management procedure

To prepare for any future threat to your office being affected by flooding, prepare an effective disaster recovery plan. During a chaotic emergency in which there is flooding, fires or power outages, your team may not have the time to follow a long, complicated plan.

A plan must identify crisis management team members and set out their roles and responsibilities. It should also establish processes that:

  • Engage the right people at the right time
  • Maintain effective communication
  • Manage information and resources to keep the business running
  • Promote timely decision making

 

Think through the most likely threats to your business, cover all aspects, as well as natural disasters such as flooding keep in mind everything from human error to component failure. Most disasters happen without warning. This is what makes them so difficult to deal with. The actual disaster is not going to happen regularly, it’s going to be more chaotic. You need to be prepared.

TIP TEN :
Have a practice run!

Once you have considered all of the tips, make sure that your plans and preparation for running your business in adverse weather actually work, and don’t wait for the next spate of floods to see if your business sinks or swims! Try it and try it again. If you plan, the likelihood is that your business will stay afloat!

Would you enjoy working in a rural environment?

Nateby Business Park, Cartmell Ln, Preston PR3 0LU

Synergy Technology is based in Wyre House, Nateby Business Park which is located in the stunning rural setting of Nateby. Working from a converted barn complex the Synergy Technology team enjoy the balance of working in a stress-free environment with a calm countryside location yet still operating a fully professional IT business. “Our office environments were designed from the outset to be disaster ready. We have an onsite generators, fibre and lease lines, CCTV with 24 hour onsite security, yet all set in a tranquil environment with nothing but beautiful views to fill your vision and inspire your team.” says Tony.

“We should encourage more businesses to set up office in rural areas to engender a more calm and welcoming working environment for employees” he adds. “Reducing the stress of commuting to crowded and expensive office locations in the city and town centres can only be beneficial to both the business and employees.”

“Our rural office can operate independently in adverse flooding or similar situations.  Says Tony, “By adopting a hosted IT system and engendering a mobile workspace it is the ideal solution to meet these requirements. I welcome any local business to come and take a look at our rural premises and determine the benefits of a peaceful rural office location. We have office space available for your business, and we can also discuss your business IT and data security, in fact, we can offer you a complete business solution.”

Footnote: For businesses located in areas prone to flooding, The Environment Agency provides a comprehensive guide for SMEs “Would your business stay afloat? A guide to preparing your business for flooding” 

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01 Feb 2018

Dynamics NAV and Dynamics 365 : Understanding the differences

When looking for the perfect business solutions it’s easy to get confused, do you want Dynamics NAV, Dynamics 365 for Financials and Operations and where has Dynamics 365 Business Central come from?

Well with the help of a little history lesson I can make this decision a tad easier.

For all you millennials out there Dynamics NAV did not start its life as a Microsoft product Navision financials was a little known Danish product purchased by Microsoft in 2002. A few short years later Microsoft rebranded the product Dynamics NAV and there started the long and sometimes infuriating process of updating, improving, adding in, taking away and generally changing the look and feel every few years until we reach the point we are at today!

But where are we today? (Here’s where I get to my point).

In April 2018 Microsoft released the latest product to their Dynamics 365 suite (more on this later), ‘Business Central’. Business Central is the next generation of Dynamics NAV, a rebranding to fit in with the other Dynamics 365 products.

 

So what option do you chose?

Michael Gibbs, Microsoft Dynamics NAV specialist at Synergy Technology, offers guidance to help eliminate some of the confusion, but to also establish that this is not a debate about Dynamics 365 for Financials Business Edition vs Dynamics NAV / Business Central, but determining what is the best option that fits your business, and your future plans and depending on how much control you want over its implementation.

Dynamics 365– The Brand

To start off with, you will see a lot of communication around Dynamics 365, but do not think this is an all-consuming product. View it like you would Office 365 – a solution that encompasses several products – but as a business systems solution.

Dynamics 365 this is not just one product, it has a suite of functions delivered as apps ranging from Sales, Marketing, Projects, Field Service through to Financials. Dynamics 365 apps are built to work integrally together.

When we are talking about Dynamics 365 in this article, we are referring to the Financials Business Edition app. A bit like if you wanted to talk to someone about Office 365 and its offering around email, you would be referring to Outlook. As simplistic as this may sound, this is exactly the scenario we encounter with Dynamics 365. As a brand it is all about which applications (apps) within the Dynamics 365 stack you want to use. You can opt for just a one off application, or you can choose from the suite which apps fit your business requirements to work together.
Michael Gibbs, Synergy Technology

So, let’s just talk about the Finance / Operations element

Now, within the Financials application, this is where most of the confusion comes into play. This application is offered as two different solutions: the standard Dynamics NAV product, which has been around for over 30 years, and Dynamics 365 for Financials Business Edition app. The point to be made clear here is: they are not two competing products, they are one of the same designed with different ways of delivery and usage!

To make this simple, there are two distinct differences between these two solutions: Dynamics 365 for Financials Business Edition is only offered as Software as a Service (SaaS) solution and it is a cut down version of Dynamics NAV. This mean that it is only available through a cloud based application (hosted by Microsoft) and the software can only be accessed via the Internet, whereas Dynamics NAV can hosted on a third party cloud service, or implemented locally on your own server which is also coined as “on premise” and offers all of the ERP functionality.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV

Dynamics NAV, which has an established presence in the ERP market, has grown over the years to be rich in functions and features and has developed over time as the most popular ERP solution for business. As well as supporting generic business functionality, Dynamics NAV also provides features that support supply chain management, warehouse and manufacturing, customer relationship management and much more. Microsoft Dynamics NAV is suitable for businesses with 15 to 300 users.

Learn more about Dynamics NAV

Dynamics 365 for Financials Business Edition

Dynamics 365 Financials Business Edition is hosted by Microsoft. Microsoft hosting is a recent development, but the actual application behind the product has the same code-base as the on-premise version of NAV so it’s not more recent from a functional point of view. Delivered as a SaaS ERP system, it is offered as a more economical cloud based application developed and hosted on Microsoft’s cloud service Azure. Dynamics 365 for Financials provides functionality in finance, procurement, sales and inventory and is intended as a cloud based solution designed for companies with between one to five users who want a small implementation to replace or to migrate upwards from applications such as Xero, Sage 50 and Quickbooks.

Learn more about Dynamics 365

Hosted vs on Premise solutions

When considering the best way to determine the right solution for your business, one of the major differences between these two applications is the implementation. Dynamics 365 for Financials Business Edition is a cloud application and can only be purchased on subscription. With Dynamics 365 for Financials Business Edition, there is no requirement to install the application directly onto your computer, nor any requirement to install updates, patches or new releases. This is all managed by the host (Microsoft Azure) and the software application is delivered online. For many companies particularly without an internal IT infrastructure this is great option. Needless to say for other companies, this model involves some disadvantages including lack of flexibility and data autonomy.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV offers more flexibility particularly for businesses looking for additional bespoke development and customisation within the system. With Dynamics NAV, you choose whether to install the solution on your own server or in a third party cloud such as Azure or other third party hosting services such as Citadel. Dynamics NAV works equally as well when the solution is placed in the cloud or on premise.

Learn more about Hosted solutions

Synergy Technology also offers a hosted version of Dynamics NAV called inSpiredNAV, which can have your business up and running on NAV within two weeks and is positioned as a “go between” the two products. Designed for organisations with between 5-15 users, the key benefit of inSpiredNAV is that some businesses want to move onto better ERP solutions but are equally concerned about venturing into costly project and time-consuming software implementations.

Learn more about inSpiredNAV

User Flexibility and Functionality

As mentioned Dynamics NAV can be purchased either with a permanent licence or you can purchase the solution on a subscription basis, where you pay your license on a regular basis as with a ‘SaaS’ solution. The Dynamics NAV starter pack includes three full users. Additional users can be purchased either as ‘Full Users’ that have access to everything in Dynamics NAV or as ‘Limited Users’ with read only access and the ability to work in a limited number of databases or modules.

Dynamics 365 is delivered with named users licenses on a subscription basis only. You pay for each user who needs access to Dynamics 365.

The Future

More news will be coming out in the next few months about the future development , but in the meantime to discuss your ERP requirements and which version of Dynamics NAV is best for your business, contact Synergy Technology on 0345 456 0050.

More news will be coming out in the next few months about the future development , but in the meantime to discuss your ERP requirements and which version of Dynamics NAV is best for your business, contact Synergy Technology on 0345 456 0050.

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03 Jan 2018

Making Big Data work for an SME

We spoke to Tony Poole, Director at Synergy Technology, for his experience and insight into the movement of Big Data and the analytics that goes along with it.

In terms of a Big Data project you have implemented, be it either internally in your business or externally with an SME client, what were the key objectives of the project?

“Traditionally in business you have a number of data “silos” – within accounting, ERP, contact management systems etc. as well as other data, like banking data, sales data – and, both could be national and international. The major problem for businesses is that it’s all disparate data.

What we have in real terms in businesses today, worldwide, is multiple silos of data that do not talk to each other. The objectives we aim to achieve with Big Data for clients, is to integrate these silos of data so that they are unified and easily accessible”.

And that was a challenge – to unify these silos?

“About six years ago the biggest challenge we had was that people had contact management data on one side and accounting information on the other side of their business. And when a customer would write to the organisation the accounts department might get the letter and update the accounts, but nobody would update the contact management system.

Now we have CRM, websites, social media and e-commerce platforms, and of course we have even more silos of data that are all disparate. The first hurdle to get over is linking simple internal systems together so if information is changed in any apex it changes throughout the business. For me that was the start of Big Data.

Now the challenge is even greater. Now it’s about taking data that’s internal to the business or purchased data, with data from the cloud, plus statistical data, and bringing it all together to build a better and more informed picture”.

What does that picture look like?

“We have clients who will take point of sale data, and combine it with data on the weather and data on their own customers.

What that allows them to do is to take a holistic view of sales in a particular store on a particular type of day.

A good example is a major homeware stockist in the UK who stocks barbecues when they know it’s coming into warm weather. But how they determine how many to precisely stock is down to data such as the temperature and the average sales at a certain temperature. We’ve seen this with a few clients and the demand for this data is growing; a one degree change in temperature can double sales”.

Is this the real impact of Big Data?

“Well, if I was running a store selling barbecues then Big Data has an impact and this would be: if the weather forecast tells me that next week will be on average 22 degrees, I’m going to have to stock up very quickly on barbeques. Because of the ease of access to data, I can now combine my predictive weather forecast with my historical sales data – which is sliced into specific temperature headings and predict how many barbecues I should have on order from my wholesaler, on their way to me, to satisfy the potential demand.

If this is done properly the impact is: more sales. If badly planned, I could be out of stock and thus not meet demand. By using the data that’s available and by bringing it all together it allows us to predict more accurately”.

How has it changed your clients’ processes?

Unless you have access to the right data – both internally to the business and external subscription data – you can’t bring it together. What we are seeing is that our clients are becoming more aware of this.

The largest area of this is in e-commerce and website purchasing, particularly for FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) businesses, because people’s trends change based upon the time of year, their requirements, seasonal events etc.

It’s important to remember that what we’re really talking about is just the joining of the silos of data. Whether it’s data you own or that others own and you’re renting, or whether it’s just you keeping all your silos in sync, this end result is consolidating and joining to create Big Data.

If you would like to find how to consolidate your business data and utilise it more effectively for your buiness then contact Synergy Technology on 0345 345 0050 or send us an enquiry today.

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02 Jan 2018
19 Dec 2017

What we love about Dynamics NAV 2018

With the release of Dynamics NAV 2018, Microsoft has focused on the development of the Web client and ease of use as well as smoother back-end work to help benefit developers and programmers.
Synergy Technology’s Dynamics NAV specialist Michael Gibbs identifies some of the highlights of NAV 2018, the latest release from Microsoft, released in December 2018.

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