Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Down Side of the Cloud

I've been using Windows 8 for months and I'm not ashamed to admit that I like it. One of the features I've found particularly useful is the ability to share settings between different PCs once you have linked your Microsoft account (formerly known as a Windows Live ID) to your PC login.

I regularly use two machines, a multi-monitor desktop in the office and a touch enabled tablet. The tablet is used both in the office and when I'm out and about and having my settings replicated on each machine (particularly IE bookmarks & links) is proving to be a great time saver. This is achieved by seamlessly copying the settings to and from the cloud.

The cloud features heavily in other ways as well, with Microsofts' SkyDrive storage service being pushed as the way to store your documents, photos etc. allowing them to be accessed anywhere. Windows Store apps (formerly known as Metro style apps) also have limited local storage capabilities and are encouraged to store their data in the cloud, certainly for any meaningful line of business applications it will be the only option as databases such as SQL Server can't be directly accessed from the new Windows runtime (although they still can from a desktop application).

Relying on the cloud to store settings and data is all well and good if you've got the connectivity, but it soon unravels when you don't. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of people in the tech industry who assume that we are connected to the internet wherever we are all of the time.


Monday, 25 November 2013

Is Your Database Up to Date?

Have you ever thought about how often you look at the information contained on your database? I ask this question as whilst going through a prospects list in our CRM for some particular marketing that a few of the contacts I have have either closed the business, moved premises or moved on to pastures new.

It's essential when you are selecting your contacts for marketing that the details you hold are correct and up to date, it won't look very professional if you end up sending an email or letter to an out of date contact or wrong address. To check my contacts I used a combination of web search for the company and LinkedIn for the person. Results were very interesting, most of the information I had was correct apart from a couple of address changes or company websites that re-directed to a 403 error or this page no longer exists. At least now with the information I have I will be fairly confident in ensuring that the right message gets to the right person.

In conclusion, it's worth checking and keeping your database up to date and check the following information to make sure it's correct:

  • Name - is the person still at the company? If not is there an up to date contact on the website, otherwise it might be worth calling to find out.
  • Address - has the business moved?
  • Website - is the business still trading?
If you don't have a database why not take a free trial of ConvallisCRM our customer relationship management solution available as either a desktop or cloud solution?

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Telephone Etiquette

I have been prompted to write this post following what I assume is a sales call that I have just received. The conversation went something like this:

Me: 'Good afternoon, Convallis Software, how can I help you?'

Caller: 'Is that Convallis Software? Can I talk to the Managing Director?'

Me: 'This is Convallis Software, our Managing Director is unavailable at the moment, I am another Director of the company can I help?'

Caller: 'When will the Managing Director be available?'

Me: 'Can I ask what you are calling about please?'

Caller: 'It's' (then she says something I cannot here clearly)

Me: 'Could you repeat that please I couldn't hear you very well?'

Caller: puts the phone down on me!

I though how rude, although they were probably trying to sell us something we don't want it's not very polite to just put the phone down on someone you are calling, to me that is poor telephone etiquette.

I am sure we all have callers that we want to get rid of, but for a caller to put down the phone on me when I'm trying to find out what they were calling about has really irritated me. Have you had experience of this? If so did it bother you?

I know it's hard to be polite to callers especially when you are having a bad day, but when a caller is impolite it's not good, well if they call again and I see the number on call display I will be prepared for anything!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Just One Reason to use a CRM

Example from ConvallisCRM - keeping accurate records

A recent phone call I received from a life insurance company has prompted my to write this post as it is something I feel quite strongly about.

Just after lunch ABC Healthcare called (I'll keep them anonymous) asking to speak to me. I asked what they were calling for and they were trying to sell me life insurance. I wasn't interested but mentioned that they had called a couple of weeks ago asking the same question and my answer hasn't changed since then. Just after the call the other week I also had a call from a charity asking me if I would like to purchase life insurance from the same ABC Healthcare, of course I said no and told them that ABC Healthcare had already been in contact with me.

What this tells me is that ABC Healthcare doesn't seem to have any sort of accurate record keeping of contacts with people on their database (I don't know how I got on their database but that's a whole new conversation!). If they use a customer relationship management (CRM) solution such as our ConvallisCRM they can keep a record of calls and interaction with people on their database and not waste mine and their time by repeating a sales calls that I said no to very recently. It makes me wonder what types of systems do these companies have in place, from experience many companies have multiple databases containing duplicate records so one person working there will not necessarily see what someone else has been working on and repeat an action. Databases need to be centralised and organisations should have systems in place so that everyone can access the same data, maybe within some sort of authentication as to what they can do with the data, read-only, change data etc.

If you would like to have all your contact data in one place please take a look at ConvallisCRM, we offer a free 30 day trial of the desktop version but are also able to offer a cloud solution from only £20 + vat per month. Please contact us if you would like to find out more.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Careers Evening, but is a Career for Life?

It is careers evening next week at our local Academy and my company has been invited to go along and meet the pupils and talk to them about careers in IT. I took part in this event last year, the businesses attending set up a table and those that are interested come along and talk to you. It's a bit like an exhibition but aimed at Year 10 and 11 pupils to help give them an idea of what they want to do next after school finishes.

From what I recall it was quite an interesting evening, some of the young people knew exactly who they wanted to talk to, whereas others just went and talked to everyone as they were keeping their options open. 

This got me thinking, I remember when I was that age exactly what I wanted to be, a travel agent. I started my career in this industry training through the old YTS scheme. That lasted for about 4 years when I wanted a change and I ended up working in a factory office. Since then I have done other work including working in a pre-school and in my current job as the director of an IT company.

If someone had told me when I was 15 or 16 that I would end up a Director of my own business I would have been totally shocked and said 'No way! I'll still be working in the travel industry.', yet here I am. This indicates to me that at that age for many of us we don't know what our career path will be, it may not be as we we initially envisaged, but there are others that will pursue a career that will take them through the rest of their lives.

What was it like for you? Are you still working in the same industry as you did when you left school/college or are you like me and have experienced different industries/jobs?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Introducing our Facebook page

Although we have had the Convallis Software Facebook page for quite a while now I really haven't used it to its full potential for our business. Since winning the social media book I am slowly putting some of the ideas into practice and am starting to see an increase in visitors - although I would still like for the 'Likes' to go up, but more things still need to be done.

I am hoping to continue to post useful articles related to technology, plus some useful pieces of information about what we get up to here at the office. I have also added a contact form, therefore if you have a question you would like to ask or just want to get in touch you can directly from the page.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Owning a Domain

These days it's pretty much taken as read that if you want a presence on the web you need your own domain. It's all very well for we IT experts to say that a customer needs a domain, but no use if the customer has no idea why. So the first question that needs to be answered is 'what is a domain'?

To answer that question we need to first understand how computers on the internet (or any network for that matter) 'talk' to each other, and more importantly how they find each other in the first place. Just as we do in the physical world, each computer has its own address which is typically made up of a 32 bit number known as the IP address. It is usually expressed in the following notation where each 'xxx' is an integer between 0 and 255.

That's all very well for computers to find each other but it isn't very memorable for we mere mortals, while I might remember the IP address of my own server I'm not going to remember the IP address of the Google web servers, for instance. That's where the domain name comes in, it is basically a human readable and memorable name for a given network. For instance '' is the web address of our companies web site, with '' being our companies domain name.


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Competition Winner

I recently took part in a competition on Facebook organised by 500 Social Media Marketing Tips . It was a simple Like and Share a post competition, but as social media is something that I'm interested in I thought I would give it a go.

A few days later, much to my surprise I discovered I had won the competition and have now received my copy of the book. I've only read a little of it so far, but have already picked up a few useful hints and tips to improve my use of social media including Twitter and Facebook.

I'm so pleased to have something that will certainly prove useful to me now and in the future.

Does your business use Facebook and do you think that you have something to offer as a prize in a competition? It seems to be a very popular way of gaining 'Likes' and followers of your page and to get your business message out to a large amount of people.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Digital Marketing - The Way Forward

Yesterday evening I attended a seminar at Sandy Park, Exeter, hosted by e-strategy discussing Digital Marketing Trends and how things are changing in the world of marketing.

Our first speaker, Collette Easton of Linkdex discussed social bonds. This is creating new links between your brand, your customers and their social networks. She also discussed the relevance of your marketing - the content and are you using the right platforms to convey the right message to your customers?

The second speaker was Stuart Devlin of e-strategy who discussed how search is changing and how businesses can adapt to this change by the use of different ways of how customers can find you and how the search engines are always changing.

The world is changing and technology is evolving all the time and so are the social networks. Who would have thought 5 - 10 years ago that we would be moving away from so called "traditional" marketing to what is now termed "content" marketing. Rather than selling your product, provide your existing and potential customers with valuable content across different forms of media that will encourage them to contact you to find out more.

In my opinion, we certainly have to look to the new technologies for our marketing, but sometimes deciding which ones to use can be a difficult decision and has to be thought about carefully before going ahead with any form of plan to use them.

There certainly was a lot of food for thought and I look forward to seeing the presentation slides to remind myself of what we were told and to help me plan my future marketing.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Social Media - When's the Best Time to Post?

I've just been adding a few things to the Convallis Software Pinterest boards and came across an interesting pin about when to post on social media. (sorry forgot to save pin, but interesting facts all the same!). As a user of various social networks I think I may have to take another look at the times that I post on the different networks as there are best and worst times for publishing posts.

The infographic showed that Linkedin users were more likely to view posts early in the morning - before 9 am or between 5 - 6 pm in the evening, in comparison to Google + where the best time to post is between 9 am and 11 am and not at any other time. Just the details for these two sites alone make for a re-evaluation of when to post, never mind for the other social networks that I use so I think I may take a look at my social media strategy and re-assess what I am doing.

What do you think? Do you agree with the infographic posted by or do you have other ideas? What times do you find are the best to post on the social networks and do you find a difference in responses between the various social networks?

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

If I've Seen it Once...

When I first joined Twitter there seemed to be a lot of excitement around it and I remember that 'join the conversation' was often quoted as a way of encouraging users to interact with each other. But I have to say that four years and four thousand odd tweets later I'm finding it harder and harder to maintain my enthusiasm.

Over the past few months there have been many times when I've taken a break and realised that I haven't started up my Twitter client that day, and then realised that I hadn't really missed it. Was that because I was incredibly busy? Or something else? Well certainly I have been busy and if I'm out of the office I won't bother with Twitter (I've no interest in tweeting while I'm out and about). But many times I think it was more fundamental than that, you see I think I'm getting bored with Twitter.

Read more .....

Monday, 5 August 2013

Protecting your Data - Are your Passwords Strong Enough?

Passwords need to be strong
We came across this article about 12 months ago: Why passwords have never been weaker, and we urge you to read it. For anyone running a web site or a network its message is quite worrying, basically with the data and hardware available to them it has never been easier for a hacker to break a password. Any way you look at it that's bad news.

As a business owner or director you are responsible for the data that your company keeps, this is set out in law. The Data Protection Act sets out what those responsibilities are and what remedies are available in law should you fail in those responsibilities. Just because a business is small it doesn't mean that its responsibilities are any less than those of the government departments and big corporations whose data protection failures make the news.

How adequately is your data protected?

How strong is your password for accessing your PC?

Do you even use a password to access your PC?

What about your tablet if you own one?

How strong is the password you use to maintain your web site?

As a business owner/director can you demonstrate that you take the security of the data you keep seriously? (Having a password on your PC or web site doesn't count if it's weak)

The Ars Technica article recommends that passwords should now be a mixture of letters, numbers and (preferably) symbols with a mixture of case but not in the common format of a capital letter first, then letters then a number at the end (e.g. Cccccc9999). It might be easy to remember but because everyone does it it's also easy to crack. The recommended length of that password has also changed, to at least thirteen characters.

It also recommends the use of a password safe. I couldn't agree more with both recommendations and always use a password safe ( I use Steganos Password Manager) along with strong random passwords when signing up to a web site. It means that I can never remember a password, but that's what the password safe is for. By doing that I know that the probability of my password being cracked is minimized, although it's impossible to say that it won't be as all that is needed is time and sufficiently powerful hardware.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Data Backup

The single most important aspect of any IT maintenance regime is ensuring that you have regular backups of your data, and that those backups would work in the case of disaster. Ideally a backup should not require the involvement of the single greatest point of failure, us, unfortunately we humans tend to be the weak link.

So for a backup regime to work effectively it's much better if it doesn't require any human involvement. That means an automated system running on a pre-determined schedule. Here at Convallis we have a multi-layered approach to our Backups. For local network backup we use a tool called SyncBackSE which synchronises the contents of specifed folders on our computers with folders on a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, for instance my 'My Documents' folder is synchronised with a 'Documents' folder on the NAS. This happens every evening as a schedule has been setup to start this process (so that I don't have to remember to do it).

That is all very well but it still leaves us with a problem, what happens if there is a fire and the computers and NAS device are damaged? Or perhaps there is a theft and the devices are stolen? In either case all the data is lost. One approach is to backup the data onto removable media such as a flash drive or DVD and take it off site (to your house maybe?). But that's only any good if the data is smaller than the capacity of the media, and of course it relies on the unreliable human to remember to change the media (and even put it in in the first place) and then remove it from the premises.

An alternative approach is to make use of an online backup service, this immediately gives you an offsite backup. Using the software provided by the service provider the data to be backed up is selected and then scheduled for backup at a convenient time. Most services encrypt and compress the data before it is uploaded to the server, after the initial backup (which obviously makes and uploads a copy of everything) the software will only upload those files that have changed, which can save a considerable amount of space. This is the approach that we've recently adopted, we chose PerfectBackup as our provider and we were so impressed with the service that we decided to become a reseller. 

As well as PerfectBackup, for some business and our personal use we use SkyDrive from Microsoft as an additional backup solution. This is where I like to keep backup of my photographs and important personal documents as well as work documents that I may need when out and about as I can have access to them from my tablet or smartphone.

Please note that as of 1st August Microsoft will have to rename SkyDrive after a legal challenge from BSkyB

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Twitter - Information Network?

This blog post was originally published on the Convallis Software website
in 2012 but I think that it it is still just as relevant today.

I ended up being involved in a conversation which started after the remark of a top Twitter manager when he described Twitter as an Information Network. Many folk seemed to be disagreeing with that view and were
keen to call it a social network, and expressed concerns that Twitter management don't 'get it'.

I have to say I think calling it an Information Network is a far more accurate description.

Let's examine what Twitter does at its core. It takes data, which is passed into its systems by a client application which must have identified itself and its user to Twitter, and then delivers that data to all the other user accounts that follow the identified user. Incredibly, that data is in general only ever delivered to any given destination once, that's in spite of the hundreds of millions of messages that are generated every day. That's quite an impressive technical feat.

So Twitter is a huge and (hopefully) well engineered broadcast messaging system, i.e. it broadcasts the message to all those who have expressed an interest in following the user.

Why an Information Network? From a computer science point of view all those messages are being moved around a network, and each user could (I think) be considered to be a node on that network both generating and consuming content. But there's more to it than that.

Social Networking seems to be one of those things that raises a lot of passion in people, personally I don't pretend to understand why. But I think (and this is only an opinion) that Social Networking is just one of many Twitter use cases, albeit an important one.

There are others, a broadcast messaging system can be used to simply announce an event, or the publication of a new article or to inform a user that a particular event has occurred (a server backup for instance, although there are perhaps better ways of doing that). None of these use cases are 'social' (although the word seems to be redefined so often that it's difficult to know), especially if bots are used to send them - but that doesn't mean that people won't follow that account if they have sufficient interest in the subject matter.

I suspect that since it was first created, its users have created many use cases for it (probably even most of them) that weren't even imagined when Twitter was first designed.

So I think that the Twitter management view of Twitter as an Information Network is actually reassuring, because it means it's less likely to be pigeon holed into serving any one particular use case.

Author: Richard Isaac - originally published March 2012

Monday, 8 July 2013

Nominated for an Award

The inaugural Nat West Devon Venus Awards were launched earlier this year with an event at the Sapphire Living Space in Topsham. The awards are designed to recognise women in the workplace and employers that support women. The awards started in Dorset by Tara Howard in 2010, and have since grown to include Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Southampton and of course Devon.

I was extremely lucky to have been nominated in the Heart Business Mother of the Year category and from an initial 222 nominations made it to the filming section and from there to the semi-finals.

The semi-finals are a public vote, and those with the most votes make the final 3 (announced at a special event on 10th July) and go on to the award ceremony that will be held at Exeter University on 5th September.

This is where I am now asking for your help! The vote closes this evening at midnight and I am looking for as many votes as possible. Why vote for me? I'm a mum of three that runs a business with my husband, I am also a farmers wife and help in the local community. I am a Trustee of the local sports centre/recreational association where I also help out on a voluntary basis. I also manage their Facebook and Twitter accounts on a voluntary basis.


PS: You don't have to live in Devon to vote!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Taking Cheques - do you?

Most of our invoices are now paid electronically via BACS, standing order or direct debit,  but having not had any for a while, in the last week we have received 2 cheques for payments.

Obviously I don't have a problem receiving cheques, the bill is still being paid after all, but it made me realise the extra effort that needs to be made to bank them.


Monday, 3 June 2013

ConvallisCMS and ASP.Net MVC 4

In previous posts I've talked about how we slowly evolve our software by taking advantage of advances in the platform that we write our code in (the .Net Framework). Last time I discussed the Entity Framework and why I decided to move us over to it's most recent release. This time I thought I'd write a little about ASP.Net MVC.

This is a technology that I doubt hardly anyone who isn't a software developer (and probably a web developer at that) will have heard of. I'm sure many of you will know that ASP.Net is the name Microsoft gave the web development platform which is part of the .Net Framework, and the MVC framework is a subset of that.

Author: Richard Isaac

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Entity Framework 5

Last time, I wrote that I'd decided it was time to update our software and make use of technologies that have been more recently released than those we'd been working with over the past few years. One of those technologies is the Entity Framework.

When we first started work on ConvallisCRM the Entity Framework was still in development and hadn't been released, but what had been released was a tool called Linq to SQL. Both of these technologies are examples of what are known as object relational mapping tools, or ORM for short.

In our daily lives we make use of various objects on a daily basis, from the telephone to communicate with others, to our beds in which we sleep. In a similar fashion many programming languages allow us to define and create 'objects' that represent a function or data within an application. An ORM is a tool that performs a query on a database and maps those results into a data object within the application that can then be further manipulated, oft times that simply means that it is displayed.

Read more.....

Author: Richard Isaac

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Our Move to Office 365

At the beginning of the year we took the decision to move our email and document storage solutions to Microsoft Office 365.

Office 365 is a cloud based service that bundles a number of what have until a few years ago been separate server installed products (in fact you can still purchase and install the products locally if needed). These products are Microsoft Exchange (email), Microsoft SharePoint (documents & collaboration) and newcomer on the block Microsoft Lync (formerly Communications Server). The highest priced feature levels also include a license to install Microsoft Office Professional Plus, which the user can install on up to 5 machines (e.g. at the office and at home).

Read more....

Monday, 18 March 2013

Using Social CRM for Marketing

I've just been reading an article on some recent research regarding how marketeers use Social CRM and was very interested to read the results.

Social CRM is a 'buzz' word in the world of marketing and is a topic that is featured in many an article or discussion online, but how is it used? The results of the research showed that most businesses (41.2%) that took part do not have any formal Social CRM program in place, but 25.1% have an informal Social CRM program in place.

But what is Social CRM? To me it is using digital media such as social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter etc) the web and other digital media to engage with and promote my business to others.

The research has shown that 60.9% of the participants use Social CRM for prospecting and lead generation, whereas 58.6% use it to build a community.  Personally, looking at the results, my use of social CRM leads one way or another in most of the roles shown, but am I doing it right? To be honest I find it difficult to show a ROI on Social CRM overall, so I am hoping to be able to rectify that in the future.

Please visit the DestinationCRM website to see the full research results.

Ever Onwards with our Technology

Over the past few years we've steadily worked on our CRM and CMS software and have added new features and capabilities to it. However, while we were busy doing that the technologies that the software is built on was itself undergoing changes, some of which we made use of while others we chose to ignore. Fortunately those changes/enhancements usually maintain backwards compatibility with code that's already been written and so it rarely if ever breaks existing code. 

Read more....

Thursday, 28 February 2013

About Us!

We are an award winning (Best Business Start-up, North Devon Awards 2008) IT company based in Devon bringing together a professional team of developers, designers and associates that are dedicated to helping you get the best from all of your IT investments.
Established in 2006, we have a track record of assisting clients from all over the south west and beyond to get the most from their IT, whether it be  bespoke software/database development, ConvallisCRM , Microsoft Office 365 and Cloud solutions, web solutions  or general advice and consultancy. We are Microsoft Partners and some members of the team are Microsoft Technical Specialists. We have an ongoing programme of training and keep up to date with all the latest technical developments.
We recognise that there are many IT suppliers you can work with, but while a lot of companies will do the bare minimum, we pride ourselves on our customer-centred approach, where your happiness is paramount and our interest doesn’t evaporate as soon as you’ve signed the contract.