How to be a Hyper Efficient Scalable Organization in 5 Easy Steps

It is more important than ever for businesses to become lean and efficient in order to keep a competitive edge in today’s market. With profit margins getting thinner and costs growing, it behooves a business to engage in the technology that is available to increase efficiencies and reduce costs. Below are five simple steps that you can take to become leaner and more competitive

Digitize:

Go paperless; paper is costly, cumbersome to file and difficult to find once filed. Filing cabinets take up real estate as well. PDF is today’s paper. Send PDF instead of paper, and encourage everyone to do the same. PDF also has an easy search function that enables you to find any document quickly. There is a free PDF writer available called Cute PDF writer. This works very well.

Other suggestions are : Sign contracts digitally. You can drag & drop your signature and e-mail it back. Convert your fax line to a fax to e-mail. Invest in a high speed scanner to digitize all your paper documents. Capture and file receipts digitally with your smart phone’s camera.

Cloud Based Services:

Google Apps, MS Office 365, Sales Force, and Wave Accounting are some of the “cloud” services that we use. You can eliminate your internal IT infrastructure and go with hosted and custom solutions, but it takes planning and organization. The benefit is less costly IT investment and the ability to work from any web enabled device anytime and anywhere.

Outsourcing:

Outsource tasks that are not strategic. This gives you the flexibility to scale up or down as demand for your business fluctuates. i.e.: outsource your bookkeeping but keep your CFO. It is important that the outsourced staff is integrated into your company’s culture and communication system in order to get the best results.

Telecommuting

Today it is easier than ever to implement a telecommuting platform for your business. There are many VoIP phone systems today that are easy to use for telecommuting.  This will enable you to reduce the costs of your office space and parking; as well as expanding the reach of where you can recruit staff. One consideration is to have an internal chat system as well. This will become your “water cooler” and allow your staff to create relationships, provide a social outlet, and provide a means to seek assistance in completing tasks if needed.

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Five Ways to Streamline Your Business

Your ideas and goals for your small business strive to be anything but small. Competition often drives you to build up your company to keep up. Too often, improvements and additions become unmanageable and worse, unprofitable. If you have realized that your business is in danger of collapsing under its own weight, you know there is only one solution. It’s time to streamline!

To most people, streamlining a business means downsizing your workforce. Of all assets, people can be seen as the easiest to live without, or replace. While sometimes this can be a good thing — to banish redundancy for example, or to clean out freeloaders – downsizing could mean overloading the employees that are left. Again, the foundations of your company are shaking.

So what can you do to shore up your business? You can’t sell off expensive, but vital equipment. You could get rid of the free donuts, but that won’t make much of a dent, will it? Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at the core basics of your business and how you do your day to day operations. It might not be possible to eliminate, or cut back, but maybe you could do things differently. Let’s take a look at what the internet has to offer small business.

1. The Telephone
Does your company spend a lot of money on phones in your office? Is a large chunk of your phone bill going to advanced messaging, extensions, or transfer systems?
Let’s take a look at a different solution. There are several companies that offer “virtual PBX” systems. These are call control management programs that will take a call, offer a choice of extensions – each with its own greetings and voicemail options — and deliver that call to where ever you choose. Options include recording all greetings and messages yourself, choosing which phones ring in which order, varying rules for different times of day and week, as well as email and messaging integration. All of these can be accessed and managed from your computer. No need to purchase special phones or services and prices are shockingly low.
Example: www.ringcentral.com

2. The Database
The most important part of your sales staff is the database. It tells you who to call, who you have already called, what they said, what they bought, etc. How are you handling all that information? There are many expensive programs out there, made even more pricey if you need to load them into multiple computers. Of course, you run into time wasting procedures when you need to update and sync all the different computers. What about accounting or shipping? More time and money is wasted bringing them into the database loop.
How about this? Instead of multiple programs on multiple computers in multiple departments, let’s have one online program that everyone can access. Online CRM (Customer Relations Management) programs have revolutionized the office place. Now your sales staff can log in online, see who they are supposed to call, see who they are not supposed to call, record their notes, and mark their sales. Accounting can go in, grab reports – all real-time – to process and invoice. Shipping can see exactly what to send, to who, and when. All of this is viewed by you, either piecemeal, or in custom reports you can create yourself. Imagine now how much equipment this could replace, how much less paper would be used, and how much money could be saved.
Example: www.salesforce.com

3. File Management
How much time is wasted each day by looking for, or sending crucial documents and spreadsheets in your office? Each minute is wasted when someone has to stop what they are doing, pick up the phone, or shoot an email requesting some file or another that they need to do their job. How can you improve on this? There are custom servers available that come with a large price tag — and an even larger IT bill — but we want to streamline your business.
There are online programs that connect your computers in new and novel ways. One such way consists of a form of folder sharing where the files that need to be shared are actually saved on each computer that is authorized to access them. With automatic syncing, anytime someone opens a document or spreadsheet and changes it, these programs will automatically copy the new version to every computer that particular folder is shared on.
Think of this application: a shared folder called “sales.” In it is everything any of your sales people need, including memos, handbooks, guidelines, vendor reports, etc. Anytime a salesman needs a particular file, they just open the windows explorer on their computer and search through the folders and open the document just like they would any other file. No more time lost to searches; for the file or who has the file.
Example: www.foldershare.com

4. The Meeting
Meetings are very important for businesses. They can get people on the same page and working in the same direction. They bring departments together to work as one to reach your company’s goals. However, if you have any configuration of employees, vendors, and clients other than all in the same building, meetings can be very hazardous by wasting time and money. Say you need to meet with a vendor, or a client, or you have offsite employees, then setting up a meeting takes planning. Not to mention the money spent getting everyone to and from the meeting. How can you change that?
Let’s go back to the phones and computer for this one. The conference call has come a long way from the days of the “three-way call”. Now you can easily, instantly, have a conference call with ten or a hundred people as easily as, well picking up the phone. The calls can be recorded for future reference. They can even be accessed by anyone who missed the meeting.
When we bring the internet into things, it gets even better. Now you can talk to all your people while doing your PowerPoint presentation which they can all see on their own computers. You can also share a “whiteboard.” You can even share documents and spreadsheets. But doesn’t that take away from the value of a “face-to-face”? That’s when you can turn to video conferencing. All you need is the online service, a webcam, and a “virtual F2F” is yours.
Example: www.accuconference.com

5. The Office
The scope of the suggested changes here is large, but can it be larger? In most companies, the biggest expense – after major capital equipment if applicable – is the office space. What if you didn’t have to pay for it?
If the first four suggestions helped your business in fundamental ways, you could take a closer look at your office structure itself. How many employees could work from home if everything they do is on their computers? Is it possible to outsource your production? Could your shipping needs be handled by another company? Could customer service be 100% accomplished over the phone?
Obviously, you would save vast amounts of money if you didn’t have the overhead of the office, but how feasible would that be? Ok, maybe not the whole office, but if you made some major changes, would it be possible to do everything in a much smaller space?

Business these days is conducted in ways unlike any other time in history. We have the internet – and faster computers – to thank for that. As newer and better programs and technologies step forward, it is good to study each to see if they could help or hurt your business. At any moment, something may be created that could change again our way of doing the business of business.

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Protect Your Equipment from Power Variances

One of the biggest expenses that businesses incur today is the maintenance and replacement of their electronic network equipment. Most people take the power that comes from the wall for granted. It is not realized that this power can wreak havoc on your electronic equipment. “It’s there almost all the time”. “My equipment is designed to be plugged into the wall”. “Why do I need to invest in these expensive power conditioners; won’t an inexpensive UPS from Costco do?”
 
A few questions that you should be asking are:
 
“What are the costs of replacing my equipment and computers?  If my operating equipment and or electronics are disrupted, damaged, or destroyed, what will be at stake?  Will my clients understand?  What is my cost of my downtime?”
 
Equipment ages, breaks down and needs service or replacement on a regular basis. However, do you realize that a lot of this equipment failure over time is caused by uneven and unclean power? Electronics are very intolerant to power variations. In time the electronic componentry wears down and ages because it is either not getting enough power, or getting hit with power surges. These variances are known as “electrical noise”.
 
Problems with the power grid that cause wear on your electronic equipment:
 
Power surges: Caused by transformers, sudden power load caused by start up of heavy machinery such as elevators, faulty grounding, and much more. After a power outage, the biggest danger to equipment is the start up of power again by either the utility or your generator. This surge can be responsible for frying electronic equipment. Another obvious cause is lightening strikes.
Power Sags: Less visible but equally damaging are sags. If there is a large draw from the start up of a heavy piece of equipment; or just a heavy draw on the power grid, then the current diminishes. When electronic equipment doesn’t have the full current that is needed to run it, the electronic components get damaged. This is actually just as damaging as a power surge.
In house electrical equipment: On a day to day basis, much more electrical noise is created right in your own building by noisy electrical loads.  Switch mode power supplies, HVACs, copiers, coffee makers, power tools, vending machines, all throw noise back into the electrical system when used. Disk drives and printers use motors that often require large start up / inrush current that can cause transient power noise.
Complexity of chips: Semi conductor chips are more vulnerable to noise than ever. Each generation has more transistors packed into a smaller space. As transistors get smaller, the amount of electrical over stress they can tolerate gets lower. New semiconductors can now be disrupted by as little as 1/2V of electrical noise on your ground reference and only 10 V of electrical noise on your line-neutral.
Common Solutions:
 
Surge protectors: These actually provide a false sense of security. Surge suppressors do not operate until their clamp voltage is exceeded (approximately 250V or more on a 120V system). Voltage disturbances lower than that can pass right through into the equipment. They offer no protection from disruptive high-frequency noise and some will have little to no ground protection; some will actually dump your less damaging  power noise to your more sensitive ground reference.  Over time, a surge suppressor can fail usually leaving the user with no indication that their equipment is unprotected. Even if the “on” light is lit – that only means that the power is on, not that the surge protector is working.
UPS: Again, these are only a partial solution providing you with limited protection on their own. UPS’s can provide a backup power when the power goes down which can provide you the time necessary to properly shut off your equipment (or save whatever you’re working on your computer before you shut down). However, most common UPS are of limited life and it is all too common that it is discovered that the UPS no longer functions when the power goes out. Most UPS’s need to be tested regularly for their integrity, and too often they are not.
Our Solution:
 
Completely buffer your equipment from the power grid / source with an isolation transformer coupled up with the appropriate design of UPS. This will clean all dirty power before getting to your equipment. Your equipment will in turn be fed with steady, even power that will prolong the life of your equipment and maintain its integrity. By using isolation transformers to buffer the noisy power from the grid before it reaches your equipment, you can prolong the life of your equipment and keep your equipment running at its maximum efficiency.
What does Power conditioning do?
 
There is a lot of confusion over the meaning of power conditioning. People confuse power conditioners with other devices, such as surge suppressors, voltage regulators, spike arresters, or EMI/RFI filters. These devices are designed to treat one or a few of the symptoms of power noise. A true power conditioner will provide comprehensive protection from damaging power-line disturbances.
 
Four basic functions of power conditioning:
 
1. Reducing all electrical disturbances:
 
Most computerized systems have some level of noise immunity built in them. The manufacturers can’t predict how effective their conditioning is because of the wide variety of system configurations their equipment may be used. In order to be effective under all circumstances, a power conditioner must reduce the worst possible electrical noise levels to levels that are harmless to semiconductors before powering your device.
 
2. Providing single point reference ground:
 
Noise on the ground wire is either directly or capacitively coupled into the system’s logic ground. More than 1/2 V of noise here will be disruptive. It is crucial to provide a clean, single point, all- purpose reference ground. This is accomplished with a transformer -based power conditioner that safely and legally ties the line, neutral, and ground on the secondary at noise frequencies.
 
3. Preventing interaction between noise generating loads:
 
The switching power supplies used in today’s computerized systems and peripherals can create a fair amount of electric noise. This can be a problem if you have a printer plugged into a computer next to it. The situation can be exacerbated if they are plugged into older-technology conditioners such as Ferroresonant and high isolation type power conditioners. A power conditioner must have a low-impedance output that prevents disruptive interaction between noise generating loads.
 
4. Providing peak current on demand:
 
Switching power supplies that are found in today’s computerized equipment have a very high current draw during the portion of each AC cycle that they turn on. Ferroresonant and high-resolution conditioners cannot meet these peak current demands unless they are considerably oversized. Such units cost more and are less efficient, hence higher electric bills. A low-impedance conditioner will provide peak current on demand.
 
The investment that you make in a quality isolation transformer and UPS will ensure that you get the full life of your equipment, and that you will not experience any business disruption due to equipment failure. In addition, when you do experience a power failure, you will have adequate power back up protection to calmly handle the emergency.
 
Barry Calhoun is the owner of ProSense (www.prosense.ca )
Stephen Leber consults with businesses on realizing efficiencies with their infrastructure

 

 

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Best Practices for Security

From the Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 07 2011:
The personal tax information of hundreds of Canadians has gone missing — and the privacy commissioner wants to know why. Almost 2,700 confidential files were removed from agency offices in Toronto by an employee in early 2006, and then downloaded onto the laptop of a friend. The privacy breach triggered a wide-ranging internal probe into why the confidential material was poorly safeguarded — and whether it could be retrieved. The employee was sent a letter in early 2009, asking her to produce the friend’s laptop.”He (the friend) told her that he would not provide the laptop and was unco-operative,” says the investigation report. The Canada Revenue Agency is rewriting its security protocols so that the incident won’t be repeated. Tax officials never reported the incident to the privacy commissioner, saying they regarded the breach as “low risk.”The Canadian Press obtained internal records related to the incident under the Access to Information Act. A spokesman for the agency says it cannot disclose whether the employee faced any penalties.

Businesses face as much of a threat from inside their company as they do from outside threats. Before the advent of computers and the internet, data was kept in locked filing cabinets; with access allowed only to restricted personnel. Your office has a lock and key to keep outside intruders out. How are you locking your digital files today? How are you securing your network from unwanted intrusions from the internet or an unauthorized access?

It’s not just the big guys! Small business owners may not consider their networks at risk for attacks. However, industries in western Canada are some of the most successful in the world and strong economies equal large dollar targets. To aggravate the issue, inexpensive software is available to do things like sweep IP addresses for vulnerabilities of any site.

Below are eight check lists that every business should be implementing to secure their data and their network.

Check list 1: six basic, free steps to physically secure your data:
1. Lock your file servers: PC’s or server racks that you store your company data and files should be locked in a separate room or closet to make sure that they are physically secure. You don’t want anyone walking off with them. The same is true for your wiring closets, where someone could relatively easily install a device to tap into all of your communications.
2. Lock up your remote locations too. Remote PC’s and laptops should be physically secured.
3. Set network access rights: Make sure that the network access rights are set up properly so that private information (such as salaries) remains that way. Ignore permissions at your peril; even IT departments can be lax about maintaining network permissions and accidently allow full access to the wrong staffers.
4. Encrypt sensitive data, especially on a laptop: If you have sensitive info on a CEO’s or accountant’s laptop; it should be encrypted. Virus protection s/w companies offer encryption solutions as well.
5. Disable print and file sharing: Disable print and file sharing on all your office computers, other than the ones that are your actual file and print servers. Leaving sharing on opens possible additional exposure.
6. Watch for data portability: If your organization needs to use USB drives, make sure that they are U3 types of drives that have password protection built in, so that lost or stolen one will not be accessible. Also think carefully about the need for a USB drive policy (for example banning them) since these are a common tool used in data theft and a source for malware to invade your network.
Check list 2: Make the right kinds of Backup.
1. Store critical backups off site as insurance from fire, floods etc.
2. Back up regularly: daily or weekly
3. Install duplicate hard drives in servers; hard drives have a finite life, and will crash. Backups are an insurance against such a catastrophe.
Checklist 3: Protect remote laptops:
1. Upgrade your OS: If you are running Windows XP, ensure that everyone is running Service Pack 3; Windows 7: service pack 2. Updated OS’s are more secure.
2. Get a firewall for notebooks: Each remote user should at the very least run the personal firewall that is built into their computer, and keep them turned on at all times.
3. Add additional firewalls: The best solution is for your network to have a robust firewall and for mobile users to have an even more robust firewall than the one that comes with your system.
4. Anti Virus protection: Everyone, without exception should have an anti-virus installed on their computers, laptops, notebooks, tablets and smart phones (especially if they are running android). Choose an anti virus program that is regularly updated with the latest virus codes.
5. Get a laptop disabler: There are a number of laptop tracking services that will disable a stolen lap top as soon as it is connected to the internet.
Check list 4: Securing web servers and your internet connection:
1. Install a managed firewall: Pick a managed firewall provider such as Fortinet or Sonicwall that for a small monthly fee can protect your network without additional IT staff. A network firewall separates your office network from the big bad world of the internet and makes outside penetration more difficult.
2. Get a firewall for your employees’ home network: If you have remote users that are working on proprietary or financial information, make sure that they have a properly configured firewall for their home networks, especially if they have a DSL or cable modem.
3. Scan your web site: If your organization maintains its own web site, there are a separate set of issues to be aware of. Use a free scanning service such as SPIdynamics and Qualys.
4. Have an ISP or web hosting company host your web site: They can protect it better than you while freeing up outbound bandwidth.
Check list 5: Wireless Security: Making your wireless network more secure doesn’t have to cost anything…just the time to ensure that they are enabled.
1. Use encryption on your wireless access point: Any encryption method is better than none at all, the best encryption method: WPA2 will provide the most security.
2. Hide the service set ID (SSID) that is used by the access point. Or change its name to something that doesn’t identify your corporation or address.
3. Turn off the ability to manage the access point from outside web users: There’s no good reason for this to be on.
4. Change the default administration username and password of the access point now: No sense in making it easy for anyone to gain access. Pick a difficult to guess password for your WIFI connections.
Check List 6: Secure browsing: Horror stories of stolen credit card numbers, phishing, and other scams have made internet users concerned. Here are a few simple steps that users can take to keep safe.
1. Learn to protect yourself when sharing sensitive information online: Use https:// when connecting to web sites that you will send financial or other private information, and make sure that your browser window shows a lock icon on the bottom to indicate that the secure browsing session has started. Your Face book page should be https:// as well.
2. Install latest updates to your browser software: The most current versions will have automatic tools that will detect when phishing sites are trying to seize your information.
3. Train staff to be skeptical of e-mails telling them to update their banking records or to respond with info to collect a winning or refund.
Check List 7: Email and IM security: Email and IM are communication tools that everyone has become familiar with. How much damage to your business would there be if any of this correspondence were to be made public?
1. Have an e-mail and IM policy and ensure that all staff is familiar with it. Sensitive corporate information should not be passed over public networks.
2. Consider using encrypted IM: AIMpro or Sametime by IBM
Check List 8: Endpoint protection: So you think your network is safe. You’ve installed a firewall and have antivirus on all your computers. All this can be ineffectual with one user bringing their infected laptop into your office and contaminating every one. Take inventory: do a site survey and know the location of all network jacks. Ensure that none are in public places or anywhere where you can’t monitor them. Panduit has devices that will lock closed all inactive jacks so that unauthorized users won’t be able to connect to your network.
Lastly; it is important to have a policy in place that details what is acceptable use of your IT infrastructure and what is not. Ensure that all employees are fully aware of this policy and what consequences non compliance of the policy will have.

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Keeping Your Mobile Work Force in Touch

Although it can be useful for employees to use mobile phones for work, it can also cause a lot of inconvenience and expense. Business cards need two numbers. Customers don’t know which number to call, so they tend to call the cell number because they can be assured that they will reach your employee where ever they may be; even if they are sitting at their desk.

There are additional cell phone bills that can get out of control and grow to be your biggest monthly expenditure. Outbound calls from cellular number lines don’t display the corporate name. The cost of long distance from mobile phones is expensive. The user now has two mail boxes to check, and wants access to their e-mails while away from the office. If you allow your staff to use their own cell phone – they will take their customers with them if they leave your company for the competition.

A number of IP phone manufacturers offer a variety of ways to integrate your smart phone with your office phone system. These solutions can range from being simple and cheap to offering very advanced integration for a considerable investment.

So before you look for a solution, you should establish some criteria of what kind of integration would work best in your company. Keep in mind what you want to accomplish: features that facilitate your mobile worker’s jobs and/or keep them in touch with your office. Then discuss with the various vendors what their system can do and match the right vendor to your particular applications.

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The Office of the Future: Wireless

A new WiFi (wireless) protocol will be ratified by the U.S. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The new generation of WiFi is called 802.11ac. This new technology should, within an interference-free room, transmit over 1 Gbits/s. This will bring three times more speed when compared to the current fastest WiFi standard of 802.11n. The new 802.11ac will transmit wireless signals on the 5 GHz band, providing a larger range, and faster throughput for multiple HD video streams and more. It also has much more power for transmission penetrating walls.

Why is this exciting?

Until now, wireless data and voice have been treated as an adjunct to a business local area network (LAN). WiFi LAN’s have in the past proven to be problematic to implement and have had issues with slow data throughput and with providing complete and uniform coverage. A big problem with legacy WiFi is the “hand off” that takes place as you move from the range of one access point (AP) to the next.

The new WiFi technology has overcome these problems so that today a business can use a pervasive all wireless LAN that provide employees with anywhere anytime access from any device to any and all business critical applications.

This doesn’t mean that employees must stay connected constantly, but rather that they never be out of touch again when they need to. The all wireless office today can now provide the same robust communications of a wired office, but with the additional advantages of the convenience of mobility at a substantial cost savings to the cost of office infrastructure.

The single biggest cost savings of a wireless office is the elimination of having to spend money on moves, ads and changes (MACS) within the office. Also, there are fewer wires to pull, and fewer switch ports to consume.

Today, with the new WiFi technology, a business can not only have their voice and data networks on a wireless network; they can also have their CCTV, video conferencing, and even implement asset tracking with radio frequency identity (RFID) all on the same WiFi network.

The wireless voice is now the same quality and as reliable as hard wired phones are. The new generation smart cell phones are now equipped with WiFi as well as cellular capabilities so that you may use these phones in the office on your WiFi network, and as soon as you leave you office, the phone then seamlessly switches over to the cellular network. This may provide substantial savings on your cell phone bills.

Asset tracking can save your business thousands of dollars if you are encountering losses of laptops or tools in your business.

That’s great you may say, but common wisdom is that wireless is not appropriate for businesses because it is not secure. Anyone may intrude into a wireless LAN and obtain valuable proprietary information.

This has been true in that past. Today however, the manufacturers of wireless LAN solutions have provided complete security solutions for your business. It would be too much to go into detail in this article of how these WiFi networks provide security for the networks. Your WiFi provider can give you the details.

There are several manufacturers that offer wireless solutions today. They are not all equal. Some have different features and capabilities than others. The costs are different as well. Some brands are better suited for large implementations, and some more suited for the small business. I would encourage you to have a look at a few before deciding which one is best for your business. Brands include Cisco, HP, Aruba, Meru, Sonicwall and Dlink.

Before you commit to any wireless solution of any brand or from any vendor you should ask for references and a site tour of an implemented system if possible. Some manufacturers and vendors can offer a trial demo at your business. This is an excellent way to get a comfortable feeling of whether that product is suited for your business.

If you are unsure about the cost of a wireless system, ask your vendor for a Return on Investment analysis. You should consider the costs of wiring your business for voice, and data (and CCTV if needed). How much do you spend on MACS in a year? Would the ability for your staff to collaborate in real time increase their productivity? Would asset tracking prevent losses?

It is too early to know how much wireless will penetrate the business community. I suspect that this will become one of those displacement technologies that will become the norm for businesses in less than a decade. The advantages and cost savings are too compelling for a business to ignore.

Stephen Leber

 

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Communications

Business Phone Systems

New technology can provide a variety of ways to enable your employees to increase their customer service levels and outperform your competition.

Ignoring your company’s outdated technology can mean lost revenue and inefficiencies for your staff. Available solutions can provide substantial cost savings on your phone bill as well as cell phone costs and increase your customer service levels. We can also give you the power to manage your own phone system and eliminate the costs of having your provider charge you for your adds, moves and changes. 

 

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Wireless

Wireless:

Today, wireless can be corporate wide. The technology has advanced to the point where a wireless LAN is now an alternative to a wired LAN. If you are interested in finding out more about the value of a wireless LAN please read our blog:  Office of the Future

Call us for a free consultation: 403-815-0469

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