Security on the chopping block

Everyone is aware that budgets everywhere are shrinking. One area that should always remain a priority is information security.  Unfortunately, with the downturn in the market more and more IT departments are working with ever dwindling budgets. Budgets that often leave those implementing technology to have to make hard choices. And, the practicalities of continuing to keep the infrastructure running have taken priority over keeping the network safe.

Data intrusion is a constant threat in our modern world. Don’t think that someone is trying to access your data? Well you would be very terribly mistaken. People exist who try to gain any access to any data that they can get. Your data is at risk. This has been proven time and time again.

Open Source Logo

Companies and individuals need to take a long hard look at the cuts they are looking to make. Regular reviews of your infrastructure need to be undertaken. If you are in charge of IT, finances or just run your own business, you need to be aware of what measures are being taken to protect your data – and that those measures are adequate.

Tight budgets may in fact be here for the foreseeable future, but you don’t want to put off the security changes that your network needs because you cannot afford it. Instead of giving up because of your budget – start looking at the alternatives. Just because you can’t afford the package that everyone else is using, doesn’t mean that there isn’t something just as good, or at least far better than what you have, for much lower pricing  – or possibly even free.

Start looking at Open Source alternatives – open source products are often free and comparable to commercial products. Tons of software pieces exist. For example, need a VPN to connect to your office securely when remote? Try OpenVPN. Need a replacement for your aging firewall that doesn’t support newer protocols or provide the security that you require? Try SmoothWall. Need to replace your anti-virus with a lower cost solution? Checkout Clam (free) or F-Prot ($50/yr for 10 Computers).

The moral here: you don’t need to forgo the protection that you need – simply because your budget has become too tight. If you spend some time to look for a solution you might just find that the solution has been there for a while and at a much more reasonable cost than you had thought. You need to protect your network, your computers and your data. Don’t make the mistake that so many others have made – don’t put your security on the chopping block.

Content Management

Who needs revision tracking? I do, and I love it. I want to be able to see the changes made to a document or spreadsheet and the comments added along with a date. As a programmer I have used some form of source control for ten years and without knowing it, I have come to rely on it to keep track of changes. Consequently, I was able to roll a piece of code back to a version before I broke it. 

There are many terms for keeping track of versioning within a document. Over the years, our terms have changed and our ability to track changes has grown. DMS’s (Document Management Systems) became CMS’s (Content Management Systems) which then became ECMS’s (Electronic Content Management Systems). Why just let a document have all the fun? What about spreadsheets, images and executable?

There are hundreds of solutions to allow you to track versioning in your documents and all of them are better than searching through years of e-mails looking for the one sent by the colleague who had sent the version of the document that you want.

cms0 Right now I’m writing this article in Google Docs. If you have not used this solution to simplify your organization’s revision tracking, I suggest you take a look at it. I have found this to be the best solution for my personal documents because of the zero software footprint on my computers.

I can see the changes that were made between two different versions of this article. Should I need to compare the differences, Google Docs allows me to show that information, as well as tagging the changes with a comment. Most importantly, this tool scales well from one users to many.

To try and apply CMS concepts to the real world, think of this in terms of a sales proposal: a team of people working on a single document. We would have a technical group to gather requirements for the project, a sales group adding (and revising) the cost of products and services, and documentation group adding and tailoring verbiage to the specific client.

Over all of this activity, the account manager would be constantly reviewing the document. In our example, and probably more often than not- in practice, our account manager works externally, allowing very little physical contact with the team of people working on the proposal during the sales cycle.

In a world without Content Management, the sales manager gets separate e-mails from the technical staff, documentation team, and internal sales teams, each e-mail requires changes that will impact the other teams. However, each group is busy on many other internal projects and finding time to get the team together is difficult.

Now frustrated, the account manager edits each document from his hotel and replies to each team. Unwittingly, the sales manager has now just added more places to search for a document, by adding revisions and sending an e-mail, they now must search their ‘Sent Items’ each time they look for a copy of the document. Not to mention, each group not having access to the other’s changes until they are compiled into the draft version on the internal network. 

cms1 Enter the concept of content management. Using some sort of CMS system, the team works with a single document that can be modified with revision tracking. Our account manager can now see the changes by each user on the team. Because everyone is now using the same document, each team member’s changes can be seen by all others. 

Collaboration is now inherent to the system. The account manager can now make pricing changes owing to some lunchtime feedback from their prospect and the technical staff can adjust some of their hardware requirements. Rather than using a strikethrough font to tell a team member to remove a sentence, the sales manage can make the changes, and allow the CMS to show the differences in the versions.

From the very high level, a content management system is a package of services that allow users to store and track changes to a piece of information. That piece of information could be a spreadsheet, a web page, or a document.

Examples of ECMS:

To give credit where it is due: this post was written in response, and perhaps to elaborate on, a post by Brian Caldwell.

Polleverywhere fun and effective resource for speakers

For anybody that has frequent speaking engagements, Polleverywhere could be a great tool for you. Polleverywhere is an easy and effective way to poll your audiences, a la Who Wants to be a Millionaire’s, Ask the Audience feature.

Speakers can instantly poll their audience by using a poll that has been embedded into their PowerPoint presentations; or by using the Polleverywhere website. On the flip side, presentation attendees can vote on the poll by texting their answer and a voting keyword to a pre-determined number or through Twitter by adding @poll to your tweet.

The best part about Polleverywhere, is that the responses are displayed on-screen in real-time. This is a great way to move a presentation forward by anonymously gathering the thoughts and opinions of those in your audience.

Types of polls

Polleverywhere doesn’t just stop at multiple choice polls. In fact, the website allows for free text polling, which allows participants to answer more open-ended questions, such as, “Do you have any further questions for the presenter?”

Presenting at a fundraising event? Use a goal poll to show the audiences’ instant contributions using a rising thermometer. Participants to contribute a pledge just like they were texting in a response to one of the polls mentioned above.

How much does it cost?

Polleverywhere has six plans to choose from for business and non-profit use, ranging from their free Basic Plan to the Platinum Plan for $1,400 per month. Depending on your class size, the Basic Plan boasts some great features, including 30 votes per poll, PowerPoint polls, web voting, widgets, downloadable results, Twitter and Web-phone participation, and more.

Polleverywhere also has several free and paid plan choices for teachers in K-12 and higher education.

This just scratches the surface of what Polleverywhere has to offer. Check it out today.

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