Cloudy With a Chance of Convenience

July 15, 2014

It is amazing what can change in 18 months. Last time we blogged about cloud storage , the main topic was how awesome Windows Live was as a cloud service.  It has email, calendar, free cloud storage (up to 7GB) and free online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. All still true, though it is now called “Outlook” and has changed its look to the Windows 8 look (tiles and pastel colours).

18 months later, I am still a loyal user of SkyDrive, happy that I can access and edit those files (including this one) from wherever I am. I also now use Dropbox, which has a different (and better) interface with my phone, and have been dragged into using Google Drive by another organization in order to share files with me. In all cases, I can see my online files on every device, and I can get them wherever I am.

Some security advice: don’t save anything overly personal or confidential to the cloud, and never save banking access info to the cloud. While it is unlikely that you will be hacked, it does happen from time to time. There are also many employees of these cloud services who do have access to those files, and though unlikely that they will troll through your files and cause you problems, it is something you should know.

Cloud computing in general has recently taken a significantly public stage with Edward Snowden’s revelations about just how much of our data can be watched (answer: all of it!). According to the movie “Terms & Conditions” (available on Netflix) everything is being recorded. And everything includes your phone calls, every email, every website you have visited, and every document you upload to the cloud. It is all being recorded and stored on a more or less permanent basis, and in fact a new facility in Utah is being build to do just that.

So I am not sure that “the cloud” as fluffy a place as it was for me 18 months ago. Yet even for the overly cautious, there is a lot that the cloud has going for it, and a small business or charity may find significant advantage to using these services. File sharing across long distances or many users, moving very large files between users, and for voluntary organizations, having a place to save files that is not tied to an individual’s computer can be significant in terms of organizational continuity.

Cloud services offer more secure business services, and (if you are willing to pay for it) individuals can get similar services. Dropbox is likely the most widely known outside of the integrated email service of Google and Outlook, but there are others like Box who offer similar services.

As with many things, sometimes we do stuff just because we can. For a very large majority of individuals, instant access to documents is simply not really needed (though we may want it). For businesses, access and file sharing is close to an absolute necessity.

To see if cloud storage is for you, check out these cloud services: www.dropbox.com and www.box.com.  There are good videos on what these services do, they are very jazzy…remember they are trying to sell you their services. Finally, assess what you need. If you are very mobile and want access from wherever, then online storage is a solution you can use.


Membership Report – May 2014

June 10, 2014

Click on the picture below to expand the report.

The May report shows an overall decline in membership for both Manitoba and Nationally. There are two things happening: first, members are retiring (see the increase in lifetime memberships, typically awarded to retiring members). Second, not everyone has paid their dues. Membership is calculated basis paid-up members, and there are always some who pay late (as credit professionals we may have a passing familiarity with that sort of behaviour)!

Student enrolment has increased by 27 (BC and Montreal specifically), and that is great news!

May Membership Report


The Artful Dodge

June 10, 2014

Have you ever been the victim of the Artful Dodge?

Let’s look at a recent and tragic case where an elderly man was discharged from the hospital, sent home and died before he got into his home (see this article).

The Manitoba Health Minister said that they will be reviewing the rules around how taxis help patients into their homes. This is a typical Artful Dodge…what is the issue here, that a taxi driver did not walk the man into his home, or that the hospital missed an imminent heart attack and sent an elderly man home in -40 weather?

The core argument made by the Minister is called an ad hominem argument (Latin for “to the man”), which is where a claim is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the person making the claim. It is a common debating technique, and one which is very difficult to defend yourself against.

While responding to this issue may be a challenge, the first hurdle to cross is realizing that you are facing this sort of situation. Many people’s first inclination is to (defensively) respond, thus starting an argument about something unrelated to the issue at hand.

If you are faced with this argument, generally you should try not to respond to the question, as it just takes you further away from your point. You should call the person on their argument (“that is not relevant”) and then restate your main point, the idea being that you want to discuss the main point and not the irrelevant point.

If you choose to respond to an ad hominem attack, an option is do what Jon Stewart tends to do, which is to accept the attack, embrace it with a self-deprecating joke, and then point out that they haven’t made a real argument: “Yes, I’m an idiot, and yet even I can see the gaping flaws in your argument. So the question is, why can’t you?”*

But what if the person making the ad hominem argument is your boss? What if a new policy is being developed in your area and someone is pushing an agenda you do not agree with? A clever or sassy answer may feel good but might be anything but wise in terms of your career.

So what kid of arguments might you face from your employer when debating, say, a new policy or procedure?

He or she might say “You don’t have the formal training and lack credibility to comment on this issue”, which would be a devastating thing for your boss to say, especially if said in front of others. But there are some good responses that will not get you fired…

  •  I have X years of experience in doing this work and I feel that I have a good understanding about what does and does not work
  •  I have an outside perspective on this issue and I think that good ideas can come from the outside
  •  Has my lack of formal training been an issue in this area up until this point?

Many people shy away from arguments, we have been trained to be polite and to avoid them, and others sometimes use that fact to their advantage. Don’t let them!

First recognize that you are in the situation, and then politely, but firmly, refute the argument. If you can do that, you will have made yourself a more valuable employee, and that will be noticed.

 

*From <http://www.quora.com/Logical-Fallacies/How-do-defend-against-and-respond-to-an-ad-hominem-attack>


Pencils Down! Back Away From Your Desk!

June 10, 2014

“I’ll just eat lunch at my desk, save a bit of time, save a little money, and catch up on my email.” Have you ever said that to yourself or heard that from someone else?

A 2011 survey by the American Dietetic Association found that 62% of workers eat lunch at their desks and 50% snack there through the day. In the world of ‘nose to grindstone’ this might seem to be a positive approach. But, really – not so much!

Foregoing a lunch break cheats us of a chance to rest our brains and return to our problems with fresh minds and new perspectives. Staying stuck behind the keyboard, prevents social interaction that could lift our spirits and lighten our load. Eating while working means we may be less aware of how much goes in our mouths, making it way too easy to overindulge. And, more sitting, is of course, more sitting! Recent studies emphasize the health risks of spending too much of our day chair bound and not enough of our day moving around.

Still, if you need any more evidence to build a case that would have you pushing away from your desk for lunch, this just might do it. The same survey noted above found that only 36 percent of respondents clean their work areas—desktop, keyboard, mouse—weekly and 64 percent do so only once a month or less. Reading this, I realized I’m as guilty as anyone and had to stop and clean my keyboard!

As a consequence of this lackadaisical approach to desktop hygiene, another study reports that the average desktop has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more than the average toilet seat. Yikes & yuck! Plopping down your lunch in that kind of environment – moving back and forth from cheese sandwich to keyboard clicking – cannot be good for anybody’s health.

ACTION:
Do yourself a favor – or three or four – today.
Step away from your desk!
Choose someplace else to lunch!
Invite a friend or colleague to join you!
Clean your desk and keyboard before you sit back down to work!

From the e-zine, ‘PAUSE ‘. Copyright 2012 Patricia Katz, Optimus Consulting.
(877) 7285289 or http://www.patkatz.com.


Credit and Debit Cards: There are Standards

April 10, 2014

If your company takes payment from customers using debit or credit cards, you should know that there is a complicated set of rules surrounding how these cards (collectively called “payment cards”) are to be handled by you, the merchant.

PCI Security Standards Council

In order to help standardize global rules on how to maintain payment card security, the payment card industry’s five largest players (American Express, Discover Financial Services, JCB International, MasterCard Worldwide, and VISA) formed a company called “PCI Security Standards Council”.

The Council simply ensures standardized rules exist, and help with documentation and training. They do not enforce the rules – that job remains with the separate payment card companies and their merchant agreements.

Their website is https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/merchants/index.php, and it includes all of the standards you need to know for handling your payment cards.

The Standard

The core of the PCI requirements is called the “PCI Data Security Standard” (PCI-DSS). The website defines the DSS as follows: “The PCI DSS is a multifaceted security standard that includes requirements for security management, policies, procedures, network architecture, software design and other critical protective measures. This comprehensive standard is intended to help organizations proactively protect customer account data.”

There is a link on the Merchant’s page that is called the “Quick Reference Guide” which is described as a convenient guide to the standards. When you click on it, you get a listing of 27 different documents with acronym-loaded names.

The rules, and the documentation, are extensive and technical. In fact, the extent and complexity of the documentation easily sends the message that “help is needed” to ensure your organization understands all of these requirements.

The FAQs will hint at some of the basics for your company: do not email a credit card number; lock up paper records with card numbers on them; use encryption for ERP and online card processes, and it sure seems that the rules hit the fan where e-commerce is concerned.

Small Company 911

If you are a credit manager in a medium to large-sized company, likely someone has done this work. Check with IT, accounting or your privacy officer if you are not the person who is responsible for this work.

If you are a small company who takes payment on cards but does not have extensive internal resources, you have some options that do not necessarily involve hiring an expensive consultant.

Your merchant card services provider can assist you with compliance, as they are fully compliant (or should be!) with PCI Standards and are usually audited by the card companies on a regular basis. Companies like MTS Allstream in Manitoba also offer training and consulting services. Your bank or credit union is also a resource you can consult. These companies can offer help in ensuring that you are compliant, and if you are getting into e-commerce and online payments, often have the right products and software to deploy right on your website.

PCI Standards are an important but complicated area of business. As credit manager you have everything to lose if your processes do not meet the standard. If internal staff do not know, reach out to your business partners and make sure you comply. Your company will thank you for it!


BYOD, and MYOD

April 1, 2014

There is a growing trend to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) at the workplace. Businesses can justify “sharing” the costs of those devices with employees because phones are used personally as well, and employees love more choice over the devices they can use.

But the issue is not cost or convenience. The real issue is MYOD (Mind Your Own Data): the ownership and control of confidential information.

Proformative, a blog aimed at accountants, refers to “Shadow IT” as a big problem. Shadow IT is the trend to share data through “the cloud” and not through company servers. For instance, employees will save data to Dropbox and be able to access, edit and share it right from any personal device.  But how secure is that data? That depends on how secure the employee’s device is, and how secure whatever online (and usually free) service they use (hint: both are outside the company firewall and usually not very secure).

This can mean that company policies are being violated, and if the company is publically traded can mean trouble with laws like Sarbanes-Oxley. That spells liability for the company and a career-killing risk for IT and senior managers.

GIGOAM, a tech blog, suggests that the “consumerization of IT” (their term for Shadow IT) can be addressed by a proper mobile device strategy and policy: which devices, apps or online services can be used (and how they can be used) should be outlined in the policy.

A policy should also include the rights of the company over the data on that device/in the cloud. What happens if the employee quits or the device is lost? Many times the company can “wipe” that phone remotely. Where there is a BYOD policy, that right is not so clear…who would replace any lost apps? Who would pay to recover the device?

In all cases, this spells risk for your company, your information and your career. Some reasonable first steps for the not-so-technically-inclined:

-          Don’t save confidential information to online services. It can spell the end of your career if it turns out you accidentally published it to the world-wide-web.

-          Companies should manage the cloud services – their own, or secure cloud services like Dropbox for Business (https://www.dropbox.com/business/features)

-          Use strong passwords (see HERE for our article on Passwords)

-          Connect your device to work services only if you need to, not just because you can.

Devices or not, in the end what we do with company data (like saving it to Dropbox) becomes a problem for the company. Once it is in the cloud, it is outside the firewall and less secure. And accessing data stored in the cloud from a mobile device just means that it is that much less secure.

Today’s employee is expects and demands instant access from a mobile device. Business has to adapt. Fortunately, business is usually very good at doing just that!

For further reading:

BYOD

-          http://multimedia.telos.com/pr/ts/byod-is-not-new.aspx

-          http://www.proformative.com/articles/failing-update-byod-policies-exposes-companies-risk

-          http://www.cio.com/article/706560/7_Tips_for_Establishing_a_Successful_BYOD_Policy

Business in the Cloud Issues

-          http://www.proformative.com/articles/why-cfos-should-care-about-shadow-it

-          http://gigaom.com/2012/01/22/how-to-successfully-manage-the-consumerization-of-it/


Student Costs are Worth It

February 28, 2014

In Winnipeg this week, City Council voted to allow preferentially priced bus passes for university students. This is not a new idea and as a result it did not create a groundswell of anger or outrage that our tax dollars (millions and millions) will be spend on reducing bus costs for students.

What did catch media attention was the outspoken opposition to these passes by two city councillors, opposition which would seem like political suicide to this easily accepted (by voters, in an election year) additional cost for the city.

Coincidentally, the Globe and Mail (a day after the vote) released an article on the value of university education, where it claims that university grads can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more than their high school grad peers, and tend to find work faster, stay employed longer, and (when laid off) tend to be unemployed for shorter periods of time. This is true of even arts and fine arts grads, according to a similar article a number of years ago.

Add to that the stats that typically support the idea that lower tuition does not incentivize more people to go to university, but rather provide an immediate financial gain to those who would attend anyway (and who can afford to pay the tuition, and could & would in fact pay more if they had to).

There are a lot of studies which support these claims, and there are a lot of facts out there about student debt, rising costs of tuition (really the debt is often more linked to living away from home than from tuition)…we do not need to review those known facts here. What is interesting is this:

-          Politicians typically do not oppose discounts for students even though the students have so much to gain. But, students truly are often at a very poor point in their lives, and, oftentimes, the sop is not to the students, but to the parents, who also help pay for their children’s educational costs.

-          Students see the short-term pain, which is a function of their youth and also of the immediacy of their situation (the light at the end of the tunnel is more a distant hope than a reality).

The other interesting point is that so many studies and findings support that almost ANY post-secondary education is a wise investment of time and money.

For CCPs, and for all of our students, this is fantastic news. It means that we have done (or are doing) the right things for our careers, our families and our futures.

Students: the hard work is, well, hard, and it involves sacrifices. From someone on the other side, it is worth it. Keep going.

To all of us: tonight (Friday night) hoist a beverage and pat yourself on the back. In the confusing and intimidating world of investing, it is great to know that we have made a great choice!


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