Data Thoughts


Going Green

pAll of us know that we need to be responsible with our natural resources and with our bank accounts. What does this look like? This might look like changing the light bulbs to LEDs (which are much more efficient and last significantly longer) or maybe turning off some of those unused lights... It might also look like setting up recycling for the company. Regardless, the big idea here is to start thinking about the impact of how we do business. The next two points are some ideas to hopefully get you started.

1. Go paperless:

This is one of the things I say all the time and that’s because it has so many benefits. First, with no more paper and automatic backups set to run, critical files are never lost. So scan the important documents and setup a real-time automatic backup. Second, you’re helping the environment while saving money. Consider the following statistic: 39% of copies are thrown in the trash... so why not email that file? Or scan that document into the digital filing system (where everyone has access without printing) and recycle the paper.

This can also look like going paperless on bills. Most companies these days will send a digital version of an invoice (many encourage this) and many like receiving a digital version. When the bill is emailed, it's there immediately and there's no money spent on paper, postage, or envelopes. If you're a vendor, with a good accounting system, the invoicing process can be automated. Invoices could be processed and emailed out automatically without anybody getting involved other than the initial entry.

At a bare minimum, going paperless makes a company more efficient, but in the long road it can make a company more profitable and environmentally friendly.

2. Alternative energy:

Solar Power. I know that solar can be a large upfront cost but, if the plan is to stay in the same location for a while, it can easily be looked at as an investment. First, we’re talking free energy. That means no longer paying the power company for electricity or at least not all of it. Second, with enough solar panels, the power company will start paying for the excess energy that is sent back onto the grid. This helps the bank account and the environment.

There are companies that will cover the roof in solar panels and even create covered parking with solar panels. Installing panels on the roof is pretty much permanent. Covered parking is fantastic, but that is definitely a much more permanent and costly solution. While these options are great for the companies that have the bank accounts to fund them, they're not always practical for everyone to implement. Let's say you're not planning on staying for a long time, maybe just a year or a couple of years. Smaller panels can be mounted on the outside of a building (much like hanging a sign) and used to power smaller setups. Think powering some computers and maybe the lights, but not necessarily a server room.

Again, the main point of this article is not about the above two points, but more so to get us thinking about the impact of how we do business. These ideas are just two ways of many that a company could be more efficient and environmentally friendly, while saving money.

Thanks for reading!

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Spring Cleaning

It's officially spring and that means spring cleaning! I do understand that most people are probably not going to rush out, because it's spring, and start deep cleaning everything around them, but that's not really what I'm talking about. We urge people all the time to create backups and there's a reason: they're extremely important, valuable, and all but priceless. However, there's no reason to back up that third extra copy of the photo from last year's company picnic that somehow kept getting copied and re-saved in random places... So, in honor of spring, take a few minutes to clean off those old files and get a little more organized. If you need some help getting started, then click here to read an article on Getting Organized.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Google and Safe Browsing

Google recently announced that they would be enhancing their Safe Browsing protection to now include deceptive embedded content, such as social engineering ads. This will be in addition to the policies that they announced back in November. What does this mean? It means that embedded content, such as ads on a web page, will be consider social engineering (viruses, malware, phishing, etc.) when they meet certain criteria.

These criteria are:

  • Pretend to act, look, or feel like a trusted entity. This means that the content could look like the actual website or browser.
  • Tries to trick the user into doing something that they would normally only do with a trusted site. This could mean trying to get someone to share their password, personal information, etc.

What does all of this mean? Be cautious. If you’re not certain of the validity of a link, then don’t click on it. If you get an email from your bank, email service provider, etc., stating that you need to update information, then go directly to that site instead of following the link.

With the amount of viruses and malware floating around right now, it’s simply smarter to take the philosophy of better safe than sorry. Also, always have virus and malware protection installed on every computer. Attacks can spread to every computer on a network. Just as important, if not more, have a verified backup. There’s no excuse anymore given the prices of external drives and online real-time backup services. This is cheap insurance that is worth every penny and it could mean the difference between being up and running the next day as if nothing happened or not being able to open for business.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Be Visible

In continuation of the Cutting Cost article from last month, we’ve written up an article with some more tips. The first section is about getting your information out there and in view of your clients. The second section is about helping people and sharing the wisdom gleaned from you’re years in business.

The big idea behind this list is Be Visible.

  • Add Company Information Everywhere – A company needs to have their information everywhere that is reasonable and logical for the company. This means that company communications, such as emails, invoices, promotional materials, etc, should include not only contact names and numbers, but also the company website, any forums and/or blogs that are regularly posted to, social media, etc. If it can be linked to, then it should be included. The point here is to let clients and potential clients know where they can find you.
  • Offer Professional Advice – I once had someone tell me that they may not be able to give good advice on running a business, but they could certainly make a list of all the things not to do. While mistakes are guaranteed in business, if you’ve been in business for awhile, then chances are that you have some wisdom to impart. This is all about being involved in and helping the community around you. If a client or potential client is having trouble on a project that you have expertise in, then offer up your advice to help them finish the project. This could be in an online forum or at your customer’s site. Projects like this show that you care about your clients and can help establish a company as an expert in the field, which can lead to word of mouth referral. As we’ve seen time and time again, word of mouth is one of the strongest marketing tools that can be harnessed.

Again, the big idea here is to be visible. While these changes may seem small, the goal is to use the tools that are already at your disposal. Adding your company information and any place where you can be found doesn't take long. This means, in many cases, making one time changes to email signatures, invoice templates, etc. Becoming the subject matter expert for your community can be as simple as spending a little time in an online forum answering questions, posting helpful tips to social media, or spending time at a client's site to find the issues and offering you're advice.

Don't feel like you have to be involved in every possible outlet or that everything has to be implemented all at once. Simply find the specific social sites, forums, etc. that are relevant to your client base.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Cutting Cost

Who doesn’t want to save money? At the end of the day, we all want to cut cost where we can, but don’t always know of all the ways that we can save money or at least get the most bang-for-our-buck. Thus, in my "spare” time, I’ve been looking for ways to cut cost. Now I’d like to share a few of those ideas that I’ve stumbled across. This list will by no means be all the ideas that I found (I’ll share those later), but this is merely a starting point to get the cogs turning.

The big idea behind this list is Multi-tasking.

  • Multi-purpose Mailing – Are you still sending out paper invoices? Well, you should be pushing for paperless invoicing, but that’s a topic for a different article. For those customers that still prefer to be sent a paper copy of their invoice, start sending promotional material with the invoice. Therefore, instead of sending two different mailings, one mailing can play double duty. This will save on postage, envelopes, and labor cost.
  • Pay Online – This is a multi part section. First of all, paying online is quick and immediate. It saves time, by not having to stuff envelopes, and money on postage, envelopes, checks, ink, etc. The next point would be that, by paying online, you’ll be able to set up auto-pay (where possible). I know auto-pay doesn’t work in every scenario and that some people still don’t like the idea of auto-pay, but it saves time, and in turn money, and can free up accounting to perform more important task. Lastly, by paying online and early, you may be able to get a discount. Ask your suppliers and distributors if they’ll give a discount for paying early and don’t be afraid to start negotiating (this is more common than you may think).
  • Buying in Bulk – How is this multi-tasking? Well, we all have to sign something at some point or maybe make notes the old fashioned way and we also have to market our company. You don’t have to look very far to find a company that is trying to sell you something with your logo on it. Many times these companies are selling pens at or around the price that you can buy them in the store. So, why not buy some pens with the company logo on them that team members can use and that can be passed around to potential clients. Two birds with one stone.

While some of these ideas may seem like small changes, over time they can make a big impact. Having normal daily task pull double duty or, in the case of auto-pay, perform the duty for you, is simply a mind set of cutting cost and saving money wherever possible. As I said in the intro, this list is simply meant to get the cogs turning and hopefully spark an idea that will keep more money in your bank account and less going out on checks.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Support for Windows 2003 Server

Microsoft will be transitioning once again in July of this year. To be more specific, they will be transitioning on July 14, 2015. This transition will mean the official end of all support for Microsoft Windows 2003 Servers. For some, this may not seem like a real issue. Maybe you're thinking that, with everything still running smoothly, there’s absolutely no need to update the system. That may be partially true, but something else is also true. End of support means that there will be no more updates developed or released. This can also create compliance issues with the current standards and regulations. Also, with no updates, this means less protection from threats regardless of whether or not the server is physical or virtual.

At this point, we urge you to start either making a place in the budget for a server upgrade or to simply start the process for upgrading from Windows 2003 to Windows 2012. Delaying this process will inevitably create more issues.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Don't take the risk with EMV

Periodically we hear about some large company like Home Depot or Target being hacked by vandals and credit card data being compromised. The credit card industry has put a lot of effort into reducing this fraud and one method most talked about is the EMV initiative. This initiative will become effective in October of 2015. EMV covers a number of areas but to keep things simple there are two points to remember.

  1. EMV makes it very difficult to duplicate a card for fraudulent purposes. The old magnetic stripe cards are easy for criminals to duplicate. Countries that have adopted EMV technologies have seen a dramatic reduction in the fraudulent use of credit cards.
  2. If a company isn’t compliant with the EMV initiative, then when the deadline arrives that company will become liable for the fraudulent charges.

For example, someone comes in and buys a welding machine with a credit card, the company isn’t EMV compliant and therefore doesn’t realize that it’s a fraudulent card. When the fraud is detected, the credit card company isn’t held liable, because the company wasn’t EMV compliant.

The main point here is that, to protect your bottom line, make sure that the company is EMV compliant. If you’re going to buy new terminals for the counter, this might be a good time to explore DataWeld’s Online Payment Processing software. If you’re interested, then please feel welcome to contact us and we can explain some of the ways that the team here at Dataweld can help you to reduce the chances of being victimized by credit card fraud.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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iPhone Solves the Lot Number Tracking Problem

Since its founding 33 years ago, DataWeld Incorporated, based in Bossier City, Louisiana, has specialized in providing modern day solutions to the age old problems of tracking cylinder assets for the compressed gas distributor.

There was a time when the driving force behind a distributor wanting to track his cylinders was either better asset management, better customer relations, or both. But in today’s world, distributors often are faced with totally different reasons for needing to track their cylinder assets: the United States government.

As an example, for years the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mandated tracking of lot numbers for medical gases. As anyone who has tried it knows, tracking lot numbers manually is very tedious and very error-prone. Being able to determine where all of the cylinders in a particular lot number are currently located can be even more difficult, if not impossible.

To complicate things even more for the compressed gas distributor, in recent months there has been quite a bit of conversation about where the FDA is headed in terms of tracking lot numbers for products like CO2 for beverage gases and CO2 for food processing. As it currently stands, CO2 going into food processing requires lot number tracking, while CO2 used for carbonization does not require lot number tracking. But it looks like the FDA is headed that way.

The answer to the headache of tracking lot numbers, as it is with many tedious tasks, is automating the process. Put bar code labels on your cylinders, buy a bunch of handheld computers, and start tracking your cylinders and, more specifically, their lot numbers.

It is a good solution, but many distributors have turned away from tracking cylinders (and lot numbers) electronically because of the high startup costs. But now there is a better solution that lets you track lot numbers without breaking the bank, DataWeld’s iPhone-based cylinder tracking software, AcuTrax.

DataWeld’s iPhone-based software provides the benefits of tracking cylinders and lot numbers without the expense of buying proprietary handheld computers. The iPhone also offers other advantages. One device can be used to track cylinders, communicate, text, provide driving directions (GPS) and even provide digital proof of delivery. The fact that many drivers already have iPhones further reduces the cost.

Instead of writing down serial numbers and lot numbers, AcuTrax gives the capability to enter the lot number and then scan every cylinder in the lot.

When the cylinder is delivered to the customer, the driver simply scans the bar code and AcuTrax keeps track of who this lot numbered cylinder was shipped to. Easy-to-use queries answer all your questions about lot numbers in seconds.

The government will forever be implementing new policies and procedures that create additional paperwork. DataWeld’s iPhone cylinder tracking software can eliminate much of that paperwork without costing you a bundle.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Patch Problems?

Microsoft recently released an update (KB3013455 (MS15-010)) that was meant to resolve some security issues. Specifically a vulnerability in Micosoft Windows that "could allow remote code execution if an attacker convinces a user to open a specially crafted document or visit an untrusted website that contains embedded TrueType fonts” (Microsoft).

The update had a negative side effect, which was distorting fonts. The easiest way to fix this was to simply uninstall the update. As of now, Microsoft has released a patch for the original update that should fix the issue.

From Support.Microsoft.com:

Known issues with this security update
After you install security update 3013455, you may notice some decrease in text quality in certain scenarios. The problem occurs only on systems that are running one of the following operating systems:

  • Windows Vista SP2
  • Windows Server 2008 SP2
  • Windows Server 2003 SP2

To resolve this issue, install update 3037639. For more information, click the following article number to view the article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:

3037639 Fix for text quality degradation after security update 3013455 (MS15-010) is installed

For now, we recommend installing the most recent patch, which seems to be fixing the issue.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Let's Talk about Surfing

We've always been told to put safety first, but to be safe, you first have to know that you're in an unsafe environment. That's what this article is all about, at least from the standpoint of the internet. Too often computers are hacked and valuable information is lost unnecessarily. Not necessarily because of careless behavior, but from simply not knowing that something was unsafe.

The next two points are specific ways to be safer while browsing the internet:

  • Point One: Think about the network to which you're connected. Have both virus and malware protection on your computer.

Have you ever been at the local coffee shop, on your computer, and decided to pay a bill or check your bank balance? This would seem harmless (sometimes it is), but the problem lies in the fact that most coffee shops do not have any sort of firewall or protection from outside threats. At this point, I'm not even talking about someone stealing your private information, but about the person across the room who accidentally clicks on the wrong link. If someone else opens a virus while your computer is connected to the same network, then that virus has an extremely clear path directly onto your computer. This is why we advocate so much for anti-virus software and keeping that software up-to-date. Should you stay off of all public wifi spots? No, but make sure that the computer is protected by installing a virus protection and anti-malware software. Also, be cautious while browsing. If you're going to get on the internet at your local coffee shop, that's fine, but avoid checking your bank balance or any other potentially private information on unprotected networks. Caution is key!

  • Point Two: Make your password secure. The less it makes sense the better!

If a conversation about internet safety starts, then talk about passwords will inevitably be thrown into the mix. There's a good reason for this and it's because passwords are extremely important. They should be complicated and, in general, not really make sense. This would make them as difficult as possible to crack. But I know that, for most of us, it needs to make a little sense so that it can be remembered. However, there are a couple of rules to follow that can really help with creating a good password.

A few of those rules to remember are:

  1. Add in upper and lower case letters, special characters, and numbers. This makes it difficult for a hacker or "bot" to crack. Not all sites will allow the use of special characters, but, when possible, use them.
  2. If a website says that the password is weak (this would happen at signup or when resetting a password) then listen. Rethink the password and come up with a new one. Again the more complicated the better.
  3. Do not write down passwords! I know that sometimes it becomes difficult to remember multiple passwords, but having them written down opens the door of opportunity for them to be misplaced or misused.

The biggest factor in internet safety is caution. As the saying goes "better safe than sorry".

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Should you tweet?

Twitter obviously isn't leaving the social media scene any time soon, so do you join or stay away? This answer isn't a simple yes or no. There are a number of factors to consider and, while some may seem more applicable to a specific company's scenario, it’s a good idea to weigh all the different reasons for using twitter. The following list will hopefully help with this decision and spark some creative juices.

Before we talk about the reasons, we need to clarify the purpose of Twitter. It’s more than just a place for people to announce what they had for lunch, but it’s also not capable of being your company’s sole source of online presence. According to Twitter, their service is an information network made up of 140-character messages called Tweets. It's an easy way to discover the latest news related to subjects you care about. However, Twitter has become much more than just a news feed.

How does this apply to business?

  1. Customers can be informed and alerted about new products, sales and promotions. This could be a simple announcement or it could be a headline with a link to a page on your website. At a conference, this is a quick and easy way to remind customers that you’re at the conference and where you’re located.
  2. Establish the company as an industry leader. If a company has been in the industry for a couple of decades, then they probably have some wisdom to impart. Write about that experience, add it to the website, and then post it to Twitter. Just think about all the potential customers with Twitter’s wide reaching user base.
  3. Send updates. How is this different from point number 1? Well, if you've been with us for awhile, then you know we like to encourage disaster preparedness. Because, tying into point number 2, we have some experience and have seen too many customers hurt by disasters. As part of a disaster recovery plan, why not use Twitter to update customers about what is happening and how the company is proceeding? Twitter could be used to assure customers that everything is ok and moving forward.

There are many other ways to use twitter that we simply don’t have space to outline here, but feel welcome to email me with questions and I would be glad to help. The thing to remember is that to be effective with Twitter doesn't require a large investment of time and it’s free. If your company starts using Twitter and, after 6 months or a year, realizes that it’s not working, then stop, but you may find that it’s exactly what you needed. The next time you think of Twitter, try to think of how it could be used in creative ways to better your company.

If you've already been using Twitter, I would love to hear how it’s worked for you and how it has been applied it to your specific scenario! Click here to let me know!

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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What's the ransom?

Ransomware is making a come back, but it's nothing new. In fact, it's been around for awhile. What is it? It's a type of malware that can essentially lock up a computer. Of course if that was all it did, then it would probably have a different name. Ransomware not only locks up the computer that it infects but, as the name implies, it also demands a ransom. In most cases, the computer suddenly becomes unresponsive and then a screen appears stating that the operator has been involved in some illegal or illicit activity and must pay to have the computer unlocked.

Most mlaware can be completely wiped from a computer or completely prevented with a couple of pieces of software. In many cases everything can be put back to the way it was before the attack. However, that's not always the case with this particular type of malware. There are versions of this malware that actually encrypt all of the files that it infected making it near impossible if not completely impossible to get the files back. Why? Because the encryption key needed to unlock all of those files is sitting on the hacker's computer. That means that the ransom would have to be paid in hopes that the hacker will actually send the key. Oddly enough, there are reports of people receiving the key after they have paid the ransom. What does all this mean? Be careful and take some precautionary measures.

Here are some of the precautionary measures we recommend:

  1. Beware of links. Never click on links that are either not recognized or that can not be trusted. Companies like Pandora who survive because of advertisers probably have enough safeguards to stop these threats from embedding themselves, but what about your personal email?
  2. Have virus and malware protection. We can't stress this enough. Virus and malware protection is a drop in the bucket as far as expenses are concerned. Especially considering the fact that a new hard drive will most certainly cost more than the virus software. Also, keep this protection updated. It's not a sure fire way to stop every attack, but it's a great preventative measure.
  3. Keep security plugins updated. Microsoft doesn't like these viruses and malware programs any more than you or I, so they're trying to stop the attacks from ever happening. Between security plugins and virus and malware protection the computer should be covered.
  4. Back Ups! Back up the computer everyday. We recommend a service like Carbonite, which backups in real time, or a simple external/jump drive will do the trick. Carbonite will back up your files and, with some form of an external drive, a copy of your entire computer (all your software, files, and the operating system) can be made. This way all files can be accessed through Carbonite, if the computer needs to go offsite for someone to repair the damage, and if there's a complete copy of the drive, then the drive can be wiped and reloaded with the uninfected files. Note: the second option can be a little more complicated, so make sure to talk with a computer professional if you're uncertain about the process.

Protecting a computer from everything isn't possible, but these preventative measures should protect a computer from most threats. As a final note, cutting down on the time that a computer is connected to the internet also helps because it cant be attacked if it isn't on... When possible, turn off any non-essential computers at night, which will in turn conserve energy and save money!

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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404 Page

There's going to be times when things just don't work properly. Normally, I shut my computer down at night (a good practice to get into for personal and non-essential computers), but one night I didn't. The next morning I realized that I had left my computer on so I gently shake the mouse to wake everything up and what I saw put a smile on my face.

As the guy who is in charge of the website, I would get frustrated when things didn't work properly. Then one day I realized that this was just going to happen. That there was nothing I could do about this issue except to take preemptive measures to avoid inconvenience. I realized that even the companies much larger than mine still had issues, hence the image above. This image appeared because a webpage wouldn't load. Most of the time this is fixed by refreshing the screen, sometimes it takes a few minutes for a server to catch up with all the request that are coming in, and sometimes this means that something is actually broken. When this does happen, because it will at some point, will customers get a funny message that makes them smile, that lets them know the company is human and not perfect, or will they get a blank page and be confused about what is happening? A few companies have taken a very lighthearted approach to this issue and some have forgotten about it.

What will your customer’s see? Whether the choice is made to be a little fun on the 404 page or keep it basic, there needs to be a couple of simple things that are always included:

  1. Make sure that the customer knows what happened. This doesn't mean that a paragraph has to be written, but simply a basic explanation.
  2. Give the customer some direction. This may be a link to the homepage or it may be a note that says to refresh the screen. Regardless of what is chosen, make sure that it is clear how to proceed.

Below are a few examples of good 404 pages. I realize the image is small, so to see a larger version of the image simply click on the name of the image you want to see.

Click here: Hootsuite Click here: Mint Click here: Oops! Click here: Twitter

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Get Organized

I was trying to create an article for a newsletter and it wasn't going well. I was drawing a blank and then it hit me while I was staring at my computer. Recently I have been reorganizing my computer files. I'm typically an organized person, but over the years I've collected a massive amount of files due to video and image editing. It was now time for me to restructure and purge those files that were no longer needed.

A few things I realized were:

    Be Centralized

    Keep all your files in a centralized location. This simply means don’t have some folders on the desktop, some in the My Documents folder, some on an external drive, etc. I recommend having one location for all folders and then creating the Root folders within that centralized location. This will make locating a file easier (no more using the search bar to find a file) and, if the need arises, transferring all those important files means you copy and paste 1 folder not 100.


    Start with a good root folder

    I've created hundreds of videos over the last few years. All of these videos have a raw format, a finished format, and a handful of other files. Keeping all that organized can get overwhelming. To fix this issue, I created a root folder for videos within my central location (My Documents, Dropbox, an external drive, etc.). I then created sub-folders for each of our offerings and within that a folder for each video. This setup keeps me from having to search through every file for one video and keeps me from having to go through twenty sub-folders to find a specific file.


    Don’t be afraid to change

    Like anything else in business, the setup created today may not work next year. Getting organized is just the first step. You may realize soon after everything is organized that there is a better way. Figure out what works for your specific situation, what helps you to be most efficient and effective at your job.

At the end of the day, everyone’s organization will look a little different. The naming structure needs to make sense to the user and the folder layout needs to fit the needs of whoever is using it. If this is one person it’s relatively simple. If it’s a team, then it becomes a little more complex and might require a couple of conversations. Spending the time to get organized will help, in the long run, to save time and in-turn money.

Have questions? Feel free to send us an email or give us a call, we welcome the questions!

Don't forget that you can also connect with us on Twitter!


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Know the Count

Can you accurately answer this question: How many cylinders do you own?

How many cylinders do you own? This may not seem like the most important question at first, but not knowing this answer has the potential to greatly impact your rental income and relationships with your customers. For over 30 years, the team here at Dataweld has had the good fortune of working side by side with distributors in the gases and welding supply industry. In that time I have long since lost track of how many times I have asked this question, but one thing that I do know is that the answer is almost always the same.

Smaller distributors tend to say that they have around 1,000 to 2,000 cylinders, while larger distributors tend to say around 15,000 to 20,000 cylinders. Let's think about this from an assets standpoint. Cylinders have different prices, but for the sake of discussion, let's just use an average price per cylinder of $200. A variance of only 1,000 cylinders would represent an investment around $200,000. That's not exactly pocket change. What if you were looking at accounts receivable and, instead of finding an exact number, found a note that read "somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000"?

4 Suggestions for Solving the Asset Problem:

  1. Put controls in place.
  2. Keep accurate records of cylinders shipped to your vendors.
  3. Keep track of empty and full cylinders on your dock.
  4. Consider using bar codes or RFID tags to track serial numbers.

Think about the accuracy of you cylinder records from another perspective. Inaccurate cylinder records can have a negative impact on your customer relationships. Improper record-keeping often means incorrect billing. Incorrect billing often results in lost billings on gases, cylinder rental income, and time spent reconciling balances with customers.

Identify the Problem

Many of the distributors we've worked with over the years have said things like "I don't make that many mistakes..." or "It's not that big of a deal...", but let's apply a little math to this topic and see what the numbers say. Let's say that there are 100 invoices a day and that there are two types of cylinders on every invoice giving us a total of 200 cylinders. Assuming that there will be returns, for this example we will keep the returns equal to the amount of shipped cylinders, our total amount of cylinders is now 400. Now there are 400 transactions involving cylinders for every 100 invoices billed. Assuming 22 working days in the month and 12 months in the year, the result is more than 100,000 transactions.

If cylinders could talk...

How old is your oldest cylinder? Whip Seaman, president of Corp Brothers in Providence Rhode Island, reports that he has a cylinder dated 1911. "It's shoulders are covered with retest dates, every five years, from then to present. Can you imagine the places that cylinder has been? Fab shops, hospitals, ambulances, factories, served our country through two world wars, and to sea on a research vessel. How many times was it refilled? What customers kept it the longest time? What gases were pumped into it? Questions like that could go on forever!" Indeed those questions could go on forever. Again, the question stands, how old is your oldest cylinder? What is your best cylinder story? Let us know by clicking here: My Cylinder Story

Let's also assume that we are above average and are 99 percent accurate. In this example, if we only make one error in every 100 invoices, then 1000 errors will be made before the end of the year. There are more things to consider however.

Things to Consider:

  1. Did the mistake involve one cylinder or ten?
  2. Was the mistake in my favor or the customer's?
  3. Did the customer loose the cylinder or were the returns improperly recorded?

Solve the Problem

Where do we begin? First,
1. Controls need to be implemented. Employees need to be balancing the trucks, every day, to the orders that were both taken and delivered. The place to start is by taking a physical inventory of each truck before it leaves and when it returns. The beginning inventory of cylinders, plus or minus the number of cylinders that were delivered to customers, should equal the ending inventory. If there are too many cylinders on the truck, then the driver most likely didn't record some of the returns. If there are too few cylinders on the truck, then the driver may have forgotten to record those extra cylinders that the customer didn't order but asked for at the time of delivery. Catching these mistakes now will keep things from getting out of hand later.

2. Keep accurate records of cylinders shipped to your vendors. Vendors make mistakes, but no one wants to loose assets or pay rent on cylinders that don't exist because a vendor's driver didn't record the correct number of shipments and returns.

3. Keep track of empty and full cylinders on your dock. Knowing how many cylinders are on the dock completes the picture of how many cylinders are available and where they are located.

The Formula: 1 + 2 + 3 = How many cylinders you have.
1. How many cylinders are at customer sites?
2. How many cylinders are on the dock?
3. How many cylinders are at the vendors?

The suggestion above will do wonders for the accuracy of cylinder records, but there is another important benefit. Not counting cylinders can say to employees that cylinders are not important. If employees see from management that these assets are highly valuable, then they will be much more likely to also value the assets.

Now would be the time to take a closer look at tracking cylinder assets by Serial Number using Bar Codes or RFID tags. Tracking by Serial Number can help to resolve those more complicated issues. For example, if a cylinder asset is returned from a different customer than it was shipped to and no tracking is in place, then there will now be two customers with incorrect cylinder balances.

The cylinders that were shipped to the first customer may have been returned, but credit was not given to the customer for the cylinder. Now the second customer has been given credit for cylinders they didn't rent. This sets up the company for loss of rental income and an unpleasant meeting about cylinder discrepancy.

GAWDA Cylinder Task Force

The US Department of Transportation says that a standard cylinder must be filled by its owner or by someone with the express permission of the owner. As we all know, the question of determining cylinder ownership has been a longstanding problem in this industry. To combat the issue, GAWDA's Government Affairs and Human Resources Consultant, Rick Schweitzer, has been working with a handful of GAWDA distributors as part of the Cylinder Task Force. The goal: to develop a policy template that will help resolve ownership issues. Please check the GAWDA website for more information.

Accuracy is the Key

When it comes to cylinders, accuracy is everything. There needs to be as much emphasis on accurate cylinder balances as there is on bank records. The purpose of accurate cylinder records is not just about answering a question or giving the overall number. The purpose is about improving customer relationships, about reducing those uncomfortable discrepancy meeting, and about improving billing revenue. Accuracy should be your state of mind.

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Need to contact your driver?

Have you ever needed to get a message to one of your drivers, but you know they can't answer the phone?Or maybe you just need to contact all of your drivers with an urgent message?

    1. You could call every driver, who may or may not be able to answer, but that would take a lot of precious time that could be spent on other more important activities.

    2. You could send them an email, assuming they have access and that they check their email frequently.

    3. Instead, send them a text using your email. All you need is the driver's phone number and the ending for the specific wireless carrier they use. For instance, to email a text to someone with Verizon, type in the ten digit number then @vtext.com.

    4. The text message will pop up as a text message freeing up the driver from having to answer the phone and or search through their email inbox.

    5. A text is the perfect solution. It will appear right on the screen, notifying the person immediately that it has arrived, and the driver never has to answer a call which will save all parties involved a lot of time.

    6. On top of all of that, lets say you have to contact 10 drivers with the same message. Using this method, you'll only type and send the message once.

So next time you need to contact your drivers or anyone in your company, send them a text message through your email.

Common Carriers:

    Verizon: @vtext.com
    AT&T: @txt.att.net
    Sprint: @messaging.sprintpcs.com
    T-Mobile: @tmomail.net
    Virgin Mobile: @vmobl.com

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Why did my computer restart?

Did your computer restart all by itself? Don’t worry this has happened to most people at some point and typically is nothing to worry about. There are a couple of common things that could be the culprit.

  1. One issue could be Dust. If a computer isn't properly cleaned on a regular basis, then the components, fans, etc. can become coated in dust keeping the computer from cooling properly. Most modern computers are set to shut down if they start to overheat. The solution would be to open the computer and, with a can of compressed air, gently blow the dust off of the components, fans, etc.

  2. The culprit we always recommend investigating are Windows Updates. Whether it’s to save time or because the computer came preset this way, Windows may be updating automatically. When these updates are run the computer must restart to apply the changes. If this is the case, then go into the Control Panel > Systems and Security > Windows Update > Change Settings. Here the preferences can be set for if and when to update, to manually or automatically update, and even schedule the update. If the issues persist after making these changes, then it might be time to call a professional.

  3. Another issue could be that the Computer has a Virus. If this is the suspected issue, then run a virus program such as Kaspersky or Norton and the problem should be solved.

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No more barcodes!

Anyone who has been in a long checkout line has probably experienced the frustration of watching a cashier fumble with a product. Trying to either:

  1. find the barcode
  2. and/or

  3. scan it correctly.

In January, a new technology was introduced that incorporates an invisible digital watermark, not unlike the kind used for currency.

The new technology company says that the clerk will no longer have to hunt for the barcode because it will be printed all over the package. While it's not visible to the naked eye, devices such as a smartphone will be able to see it. Also, the code can be embedded onto the product via common software products like Photoshop. This next generation barcode is still in the testing phase, but developers claim it will speed up checkout times by as much as 33 percent.

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Support for Windows XP?

If you're still using Windows XP, then it may be time to start adding money into the budget for an upgrade. Asof April 8, 2014 Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP. What does this mean? It simply means that the opperating system is locked and that there will be no more updates, no more patches, bugs fixes, or security updates. If you have any questions about upgrading feel free to ask!

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Accounts Payable Controls

Most businesses understand the need for balancing controls with Accounts Receivable and have implemented the appropriate controls. We have seen in many cases however, where the same controls do not exist for Accounts Payable. The reasons are varied, but the same controls still need to exist. When no controls exist invoices can be entered twice and vendors paid multiple times or paid the wrong amount. Each mistake takes time, and in turn money, to correct.

Here are a few suggestions for implementing Accounts Payable Controls:

  1. Minimize the number of people involved. A company may be large and perhaps need a number of people to handle all of the invoices, but the process still needs to be focused. One person who really understands the task is going to do a better job than two people who kind of understand the task.

  2. Separate the Accounts Payable invoice entry from the Purchasing function. This will be impacted by the size of your company, but It's still good from a control stand point to separate this process.

  3. Run Totals. When the process is started, run a total on the number of invoices that will be entered and the total amount of those invoices. Balance these two numbers against the purchase journal after the invoices have been entered into the system.

  4. Use the actual Invoice Number whenever possible. This will help to keep duplicate numbers out of the system. If there is no invoice number, for instance a credit card statement, then it's it a good idea to date stamp the invoice number. This may look like Visa20140714.

  5. Check-Off the Invoices. Always mark invoices as Entered after they have been processed into the system. Whether a paper file is maintained or the invoices are scanned and stored digitally, this can help provide proof that the invoices have been entered.

  6. Look for the Abnormalities. When the Purchase Journal is run, learn to look for the abnormal conditions. This means that if there is typically a $100 a month charge from a vendor and now there's an invoice for $10,000, there may have been a mistake made. This is one of the main reasons to run a total on the amount of the invoices. It's also another reason to restrict the number of people involved in this process. After a while, an experienced person will recognize the abnormal situations and be able to make changes as needed.

  7. Check the Work. Always double check the work. It is easier to correct a mistake before everything is processed and it takes a lot less time.

Summary

Minimize the number of people involved, run a total on the number of invoices and the total amount of those invoices, always use the vendor invoice number when available, compare your total to the purchase journal and double check all the work.

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Our Top Ten List

There are a more than a few top 10 lists floating around these days. Finding one of those lists of 10 things to work on, steps to take, or simply funny anecdotes requires nothing more than a Google search. A customer of ours asked for some enhancements to the reporting functions within our software and what became of those enhancements was our very own Top 10 list of nine items. I know, why couldn’t it be ten and ten? What follows is that very list which we thought would be helpful to both our customers and non-customers. Even if you’re not using our software, knowing the following numbers about your company could be very beneficial to daily operations and management.

Here are the nine top ten reports that were developed:

  1. Dead Stock: This report shows the Top 10 items in inventory that are considered Dead Stock. Companies qualify items as dead stock with different metrics, but they we qualify an item(s) as Dead Stock is when less than ten dollars of a particular item was sold in the last year. If the item isn’t selling, maybe it should be removed from inventory to free up room for items that are selling faster. Better inventory management starts here.
  2. Gross Profit: This report was designed to paint a more positive picture by showing the Top 10 inventory items that generated the most Gross Profit last month. These items are not only profitable, but are selling regularly.
  3. Monthly Inventory Activity: This report displays inventory based on how much activity is generated on each item. Therefore it shows the Top 10 items that generated the most activity during the month.
  4. Sales Analysis: Knowing who the best customers are is very important. Each sales person can quickly see to which customers they need to be devoting the most attention. This report also gives management the ability to see if the sales team is staying in touch with their customers.
  5. Gross Profit Analysis: Sales are important, but how profitable are your customers? With this report anyone who has access can quickly see the Top 10 most profitable customers by sales person or location.
  6. Cylinder Balances: Part of our software is used to track cylinders in various different scenarios. Regardless of the asset, knowing which customer has which asset and how many they have is very important. The report we designed helps our customers to easily see the Top 10 customers who have the most cylinders (assets) on hand by sales person or location.
  7. Cylinder Activity: Another way of looking at cylinder (asset) customers is to see how many cylinders (assets) they are being shipped each month. This Top 10 report shows the Top 10 Cylinder (asset) customers based on how many cylinders (assets) were shipped to them or picked up. Customers with a sudden increase in activity would show up on this list.
  8. Invoices Over 60 Days Old: It’s important to sell and to make a profit, but money has to be collected. When time is limited and only a few collection calls can be made, make them to the customers who owe the most money. That is exactly what is on this report. It shows the Top 10 customers with the highest balances that are sixty days and older, the last time they paid, and how much they paid.
  9. Total Amount Owed: This report gives a slightly different picture of how much customers owe. With this report, you can see the Top 10 Customers that owe the most money regardless of how old an invoice is.

This Top 10 list will give a quick, efficient look at some key areas of your business. Regardless of the number, we chose 10, but you could choose 100, having an idea of what these numbers are will give your team clear defined areas to work on. Now go create some reports!

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Where's the proof?

One of the most common questions our distributors are asked by their customers is "Can you tell me who signed for that delivery?” Another common question is "Can you show me the original delivery document?” Perhaps there is a legitimate concern about an item delivered, cylinders returned or maybe the customer is just trying to avoid paying. Regardless, there normally are only two ways to produce the desired proof for the customer. One is to go through your filing system, get a copy of the original delivery document with all the handwritten notes including the signature and then send it to the customer via fax or email. The other option is to invest in a document imaging system and scan every delivery document. The document imaging option is very sophisticated and works nicely, but can require a large up-front investment.

Now there is a another option, the iPhone. Using the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you can take a picture of the delivery document immediately after the customer signs it. The image of the document is saved with the date, time and invoice number and these images are automatically uploaded to a designated server via a cellular or Wi-Fi connection.

Once the images are on the server, you will be able to bring them up and email the image to the customer as proof of delivery or to answer their questions.

The obvious advantage to this approach is that you can provide absolute proof of delivery to your customers without the requirement to invest in a document imaging system. The other advantage is that having each driver capture the image as part of the delivery process eliminates a scanning bottleneck back at the office.

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Four Common Backup Mistakes

Few things that are done each day are as important as backing up critical data. Unfortunately, backups often aren't given much thought until they are needed. Over the years we have seen a number of mistakes that have been made regarding backups. Here are the four most common.

  1. Not Doing Them. People might be surprised how often this happens and often times it's simply because someone forgot. Always make sure someone is responsible for performing the daily backups and make sure it is getting done. This has been made easier with services like Carbonite. Backups can also be scheduled on any PC within the administration section and set to run on a schedule that works best for your specific schedule.
  2. Not Verifying That The Backup Works. Jump drives and external disk drives are reliable, but they should still be verified for a successful copy of the data. If a service like Carbonite is being used, then chances are that the backup worked. However, it's never a bad idea to take a minute and check for critical files. A little time is worth a large amount of insurance.
  3. Not Taking The Backups Offsite. Years ago, one of our clients had been diligently backing up their data, but left the backups on the desk beside the computer. One night, the building burned along with EVERY backup of the company's data. The client lost their inventory files and accounting records. If you're backing up on site with an external device, then make sure to either take it off-site or place that copy into a fire/water proof container. Again, we encourage our clients to use a service like Carbonite since it can backup in "real time" and is off-site.
  4. Not Having A Secondary Copy. People make mistakes. We've heard stories of operators accidentally deleting data instead of copying it. Having a secondary copy prevents major issues and an extra external drive is very cheap insurance. Always have more than one copy of your critical data.

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Phone System Upgrade

We just completed an upgrade of our phone system here at DataWeld to make it easier to communicate with all of our customers and potential clients. The new system is based on VOIP Technology which simply means it uses the internet to communicate instead of traditional point to point land lines. So how does this help you?

1. There is now a direct access line to everyone in the company. No more phone trees! Instead of calling our main number (which is still operational) and entering an extension number, you call the phone number that goes directly to the person you're trying to contact. It's faster, easier and there are no extension numbers to remember.

2. Voice message aren't just saved to the phone they're also sent to the person you're calling via email. As time permits, the team here at Dataweld could respond via email while continuing to work with another client. This will ultimately lead to faster response times. The numbers are in place now, so the next time you need to speak with someone on the team here at Dataweld, ask for their direct line or go to Dataweld’s Contact Us page for a list of the numbers.

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It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark...

Start the Plan

Howard Ruff, author of numerous financial planning books has been quoted as saying "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark”. His reference was to financial planning, but the same notion applies perfectly when it comes to planning for disasters. Many business spend a great deal of time planning on how to grow their business while ignoring what might happen if they ever experience a major disaster such as a fire or hurricane.

Don’t feel alone if you don’t have a plan. According to industry statistics, despite major disasters like Hurricane Sandy that struck the east coast in 2012, less than one-half of all businesses say they have a disaster recovery plan. When asked, most of those businesses with disaster plans said they had not tested their plan. Not testing the plan is almost like not having one.

The consequences of not having a plan for a disaster are sobering. The numbers vary depending upon the source, but according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 25 percent of all businesses do not reopen after a major disaster.

So where is the starting point? Unfortunately, this typically is not a problem to be solved in one short meeting over coffee. Planning for disaster recovery requires time and resources and it needs become an integral part of the business plan. The following points will give a good "jumping off" point.

1. Develop Your Plan. The first step in developing your plan is to bring together the people most impacted by a major disaster. Start asking the question "What do we do if?” For example, how would we know what our customers owe us? What do we do if we can’t process invoices or pay bills? How do we notify our customers and what do we tell them? How do we order product? Is our data protected?

2. The next part of the plan is to Assign Responsibilities. Who will get the message about the disaster out to our customers? This person will be responsible for emailing, calling, texting or faxing every customer to let them know what has happened.

Assigning someone to develop an inventory of what the business owns is important for insurance claims.

Give someone the responsibility of scanning important documents. This will include insurance documents, tax returns, payroll records, etc. Scanning doesn't have to be expensive. The Neat Company markets an inexpensive scanner that is simple to use and quick to setup.

Assign someone the task of installing a backup product, like Carbonite, to automatically backup everything that is on the PC. Carbonite's backup is simple, easy, continuous and in the event of a disaster the company would have access to all of the important records.

As part of the plan, make sure that company data is not only backed up, but a copy is stored off-site. This should go beyond the basic backup that Carbonite performs. This backup should be a restore drive/mirror image (a copy of the server drive with all software and files) that could be installed into any server. Most software providers are also providing cloud based systems that eliminate servers and give access to company data through the internet.

3. Work Your Plan. After all the time invested in growing the business, it's best to make sure that the new plan functions the way it was envisioned. In the beginning this may mean regular meetings to check on progress and to see if an area of the plan needs to be adjusted. The point of working the plan is to make sure that progress is being made, documents are being scanned, data is being backed up and the proper procedures are in place.

4. Audit Your Plan. The final step is to periodically audit the plan. It's great to have the backups automated but more than one company has backed up their data only to realize, at the most unfortunate time, that the data could not be retrieved. In other words, test your backups.

Make sure that all needed reports can be found easily and quickly. This might look like asking the person in charge of the financial reports for a specific purchase journal from last year. Regardless of the process that is tested, the point is to make sure that the plan is functioning properly.

None of us know when disaster will strike. We don’t know when the next earthquake, tornado or hurricane will hit, but history has proven to us that they do happen and they will happen again. Being prepared will significantly improve any companies chances of recovery.

Just remember what Howard Ruff said "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark”

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A little more maintenance

I've been talking about computer maintenance here lately and now I've got a little more to share. This article has two basic tips that work hand in hand to help your computer perform at its best.

Tip One: Watch What You Download. Not only is it important to know where the download is coming from, that it is safe and legitimate, but whether or not that program is downloading other programs. When downloading a new program, look to see if a box is checked for a new toolbar, trial version of an anti-virus, etc. Unless the program is something that is needed for the computer it will simply be taking up valuable space and computing power.

Tip Two: Make sure to Create Restore Points. Before downloading a new program it’s always a good idea to create a restore point. Creating the restore point doesn't take much time and if something bad happens in the download, the computer can be back to normal with just a few clicks.

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How's your computer's environment?

Recently, I wrote about how to clean up your computer to keep it running smoothly. Something I didn't write about was that your computer's environment can also affect its performance. The goal is to keep the environment clean, cool, and at the proper height. Here are some of our tips for a better computing environment.

Tip One: Keeping the environment clean of dust and dirt will help keep the inside of the computer from getting coated in dirt. This will help the computer to run at an optimal temperature and preserve the life of the internal components.

Tip Two: Keeping the computer in a cool if not cold area can be helpful. Even when the room is clean, if the temperature is too hot, the computer could start to overheat.

Tip Three: The final tip is to keep the computer at the proper height. Since heat rises, having some "head room" above the computer will give the heat generated by the computer a place to go. However, this does not mean that the floor is the optimal location for the computer. The computer's optimal location would be on a shelf to avoid both heat build up and potential water or flooding issues. If possible, place an external fan near the computer to create even better circulation.

Obviously, the weather can not always be controlled and often the computer has to go in the hot warehouse because there is no other room. However, implementing some of these techniques can help to reduce the day to day wear and tear on your server, thus saving time and money!

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Could your computer stand to be a little faster?

People are sometimes told that once a computer slows down that it has reached capacity or that it's time for a replacement. This isn't necessarily true. Many times there are a few basic things that can be done to help in this situation. In the following article we have a couple of tips to help.

Note: Before trying any of these steps to improve your computer's speed, make sure to create a full backup of the computer.

Step One: The first option is to work on the Startup Process. Turning off programs that aren't necessary for the startup will help. If you have a newer computer with Windows 7 or 8, then you could install a Solid State Drive which will naturally have a faster startup time than a traditional hard drive.

Step Two: Cleaning out excess files is also a good thing to do when trying to speed up a computer. Once that is done, run the Windows program Disk Cleanup. This removes temporary files, empties the recycling bin, and removes a variety of system files and other items you no longer need.

Step Three: After cleaning out the files comes the Defragmenting process. On traditional disk drives, information gets scattered across the drive causing the computer to go and gather all the pieces of a file and assemble them once they are needed. This obviously isn't the most efficient way for the computer to gather information, so by running the defragging program built right into the computer, all this information can be collected, sorted, and organized making the computer run more efficiently and effectively. To do this: Open My Computer > Right Click on the Main Drive > Choose Properties > Select the Tools Tab > Choose Defragment Now. This process may take some time to complete, so make sure that the computer won't be needed during this process.

Step Four: Removing any Viruses also needs to be done on a regular basis. It's best to have a program that runs in Real Time to protect the computer from any major threats. We recommend having Malwarebytes, which can be set on a schedule and will run in the background without affecting productivity. This protects from malware like worms, trojans, and spyware. Also having Norton Anti Virus or Kaspersky will protect the computer from major virus attacks in real time and stop them before your computer is ever damaged.

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Are you running out of time?

If you're still using a PC running the Windows XP operating system, be aware that you may be running out of time. Microsoft has publicly stated that the end of life for Windows XP is April 8, 2014. That does not mean that your PC will stop working on that date, it simply means that support will start getting increasingly difficult to obtain. The OS will be locked which means what you have is what you get. Patches and bug fixes will disappear and when the security updates stop coming your PC will become much more susceptible to new virus’s and harmful malware. There's still time, but replacing Windows XP should definitely be put into the budget.

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Did you say Monkey Tail?

Yes we said it. That phrase isn't normally in our vocabulary, but it's something that might be of interest when using our app. With the new application, people have been asking about some way to mount the iPad in the vehicle so that it would be easy to see the next stop or the turn by turn directions. After some research, several devices were found that would hold the iPad while driving to the various stops. Most of these options had to be mounted in the vehicle. A really interesting option is called The Monkey Tail. It gives the ability to mount the iPad without bolts or screws. If you would like to see more about this product and how it might be used in this application, just click here: The Monkey Tail

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Virus Protection: You can't be too careful

Spyware, Trojans and worms. These are different forms of software that have one common intent. They want to infect your PC or server. You can't be too cautious when dealing with any form of malware, so the following list is a few reminders to help protect against these threats.

Reminder 1: Make sure to have a reputable anti-virus software product installed on each PC. Norton and McAfee are both good products. Also make sure to keep the virus software updated. A good anti-virus software product will constantly update the list of viruses it detects and protects against.

Reminder 2: Never open zip files unless you know who the file is from and are expecting it. Double and triple check the legitimacy before opening any zip file.

Reminder 3: Always be suspicious of any email you are not expecting or don’t recognize. It may be tempting to open that email from the guy in China who wants to place a big order with you, but the probability is that his intentions are not good.

Reminder 4: When in doubt, look at the email address. If the senders email address ends in something other than .com and you don't recognize the sender, then it's probably best not to open the attachment.

Final Reminder: Be cautious.

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Backups: Fire and Waterproof

Weather seems to constantly remind us that we can't control it. We don't know what's next, but we do know that there's a need to make sure that we all have good backups. Backups are like insurance and this insurance is very inexpensive. The hope is that it never has to be used, but no one regrets having the backups when they're needed. The following are a few tips that we always tell our customers when setting up their backups.

Tip 1: Now would be a great time to Take an Inventory and make sure everything is backed up. This would include data files, the operating system, and any other programs that are being used.

Tip 2: Store the backups in a secure place. Fireproof and waterproof safes are good, off-site is better. Multiple copies provide an additional layer of protection and if the data files are not too large, USB drives make an excellent low cost backup.

Tip 3: Verify the backup to be certain that it can be read after the it's completed. The best insurance is backing up over the Internet to an off-site server. It's very cheap insurance and most internet based backup products run automatically so the backup is never forgotten.

Final Tip: Don’t procrastinate. Do a backup inventory today. None of us know when that next natural disaster is going to strike.

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Let customers do the work!

Paperless invoices and online payments

Running a business efficiently and productively in good times will be even more beneficial when the economy is slow. The two key words in that sentence are efficiently and productively. The past few years have taught us the importance of doing more with less. Below are few ways to get more work done with less effort.

Paper No More

First, stop mailing out paper invoices. Paper invoices are kind of like VHS tapes. There was a time and a place for them, but there are more efficient ways of delivering your invoices, like email. I know, I’ve heard it before: customers don’t want e-mailed invoices. I am sure some customers fall into that category, but not all of them. Remember, there is an entire generation of iPhone users taking over businesses and they don’t want paper.

As the possibility of e-mailing invoices is considered, think of all the associated costs with paper invoices: paper, printer ink, envelopes, people to put invoices into the envelope, and postage to mail the invoices. For every thousand invoices sent out each month, a company is likely to be spending a minimum of $500.

Put the Customers to Work

Let the customers do all the work by paying their invoices online. Most major companies encouraging customers to pay their bills online. Why? Because that means the workload is now carried by the customer. They don’t have to receive the check, mark the account number on it, send it to accounts receivable for posting, and then carry the checks to the bank for deposit. The customer service angle is great, because now the customers can pay their bills when it is convenient for them. The smaller the customer, the more they will like this feature, because a smaller customers could go home, eat supper and then sit down and pay the bill online. To make it even easier for them, a link can be put in the e-mail when the invoices are sent. They simply have to click on the link, which will take them directly to the online payment system.

Keeping Transactions Secure

To accept online payments, there must be a merchant account and the appropriate web software that allows for the payments to be accepted. The merchant account would handle the security issues, such as the liability of handling and storing credit card information.

Note: The distributor will need a secure certificate, this will appear as a lock on the website.

The merchant account would approve the requests for payment. At that point, the approval amount, approval number and the invoices being paid will be sent to the distributor via e-mail.

From a security standpoint, the distributor never sees the credit card, therefore payment will be confirmed by the approval number. Because of federal regulations, distributors must be extremely careful with credit card information. There should be no need to upgrade the host software, given that many online payment applications are web-based.

This article originally appeared in the Second Quarter, Spring 2011 issue of Welding & Gases Today Copyright ©Data Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Mobile Processing

Using mobile technology saves time and money while improving accuracy and customer service. After being in the welding supply business for a long time, being very successful at running the business, and upgrading to the latest computer technology, you keep hearing people say you need to consider something called mobile processing. What exactly is mobile processing, and why should you give it a second thought?

What Is Mobile Processing?Mobile Processing

Depending on whose talking, a variety of definitions will be given. One very simple definition is performing work away from your office. For example, mobile processing includes any time a call is made back to the office to find out what a customer owes. Another example is when drivers sell something off of their truck and write up a ticket in the field to give to the customer. Any work of this type performed in the field could easily be described as mobile processing.

When GAWDA talks about mobile processing, the definition typically involves the use of technology. When technology is added to the mobile processing equation, the benefits can be tremendous. Here are a few examples.

Improved Customer Service

Most distributors have outside salespeople calling on customers. Those customers often have questions that require a call back to the office. Questions like: "Did you receive my last payment?” or "What is my price for that helmet?” or "How many cylinders do you have me charged with?” If the salesperson does not have a printout with them, then they have to call the office and get someone to stop what they are doing to look up the answer for the question.

Suppose that a salesperson has a laptop or cell phone. Instead of having to call back to the office, the questions could be answered immediately for the customer. The customer gets their information quickly, the salesperson isn't wasting time calling back to the office, and the inside salesperson is free to continue working on other tasks.

More Accurate Cylinder Records

One of the big headaches for many distributors is cylinder balances, specifically, keeping them accurate. Here is where mobile processing can help a company and it's customers. Even if cylinders are not currently being tracked by serial number with a PDA, ruggedized handheld computer or cell phone, the cylinder information could be downloaded to one of these devices. This would give the sales team and drivers the capability to perform cylinder audits when visiting customers. The sales team would be able to perform audits and immediately alert the customer to any discrepancies. At this point, they could begin working toward resolving the issue before they get out of control.

Cylinder Record Accuracy

In this example, mobile processing with a mobile computer opens up the opportunity to improve the accuracy of cylinder records, reduce the number of meetings involving cylinder discrepancies and demonstrate to customers a higher level of customer service.

Processing Orders at the Point of Delivery

Many distributors stock extra cylinders and inventory on their trucks in case the customer decides they need a few more oxygen cylinders or some extra tips. Regardless of whether the order is generated ahead of time or at the customer site, changes to the order have to be made when the customer wants more products. How do these changes get back to the host system accurately and efficiently?

In many cases, what happens is that the driver writes down the changes on the ticket and brings those back at the end of the day. Then someone else deciphers the handwritten changes and manually enters the changes into the host system. Hours every day are spent on this repetitive, potentially error-prone task.

Mobile processing gives the capability to streamline this operation. Instead of writing down the changes on a printed ticket, the driver simply brings up the ticket on their mobile computer and notes the changes. At the end of the day, the mobile computer is returned to the office and the orders, with all of their changes, are updated to the invoicing system. No one has to enter the changes that were made. No one has to enter the number of empty cylinders picked up because those, too, are in the mobile computer. Hours of data entry can be saved.

What is Needed to Get Started?

Mobile processing has come a long way in the last few years. The choices available are as wide ranging as the products you offer to customers. Some distributors download data to laptops every day and are already reaping the benefits of mobile processing. Other distributors have worked with their software suppliers to set up VPNs (virtual private networks), allowing them to use the laptop computer to access their host systems from wherever they happen to be.

If you think smaller is better, then take a look at the latest generation of rugged handheld computers with built-in bar code scanners and even transponder readers. These make it possible to do everything discussed above, plus track cylinders by serial number.

Don’t forget about that cell phone you're using. Instead of just using them to call back to the office or synchronize with email, download tons of information about customers’ buying patterns, cylinder records and even payment history.

Maybe it’s time to give mobile processing a second look. Your software supplier can probably get you set up with one or more mobile processing options in no time flat. Not only will this save time and money, but think about how many trees will be saved by not printing out those inventory reports and price lists that the sales team are carrying with them.

This article originally appeared in the First Quarter, Winter 2008 issue of Welding & Gases Today Copyright ©Data Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. Authored by Jim Broughton.

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Electronic Price Update Standard

As astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped to the surface of the moon in July 1969, he said the historic words "That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” A paraphrase might be: "While this step is a small one, it will ultimately affect mankind in ways few people could possibly imagine.” While I'm in no way trying to compare the work of the GAWDA Management Information Committee with the space program, a seemingly small recent event has the potential to impact welding supply distributors in some pretty significant ways.

The GAWDA Management Information Committee recently finished a revision to the Electronic Price Update Standard. At first glance, this event does not seem to be much of a reason to start waving flags and shooting off fireworks. However, after realizing what the price update standard does, we can quickly see why vendors, software companies and distributors all have a reason to celebrate.

Format ConsistConsistency and Efficiencyency

One of the biggest benefits of the Electronic Price Update Standard is that now all vendors can send out their pricing information in one format regardless of to whom they are sending it. On the receiving side, software vendors and distributors will spend less time and effort programming because the pricing information can come to them in one consistent format, regardless of the vendor. They can have one price update program that will work with any vendor who adopts the price update standard. Vendors, software companies and distributors will all benefit from these efficiencies.

Pricing Update

Another major benefit is that prices and costs get updated to your inventory file in a matter of minutes, compared to manual data entry of pricing information that may take hours, days or even weeks in some extreme cases. As a distributor, not only is time saved, but data is more accurate, because the many mistakes that are often created as a result of manual data entry have been eliminated.

POS Bar Coding

If you've been putting off the move to point of sale bar coding, the electronic price updates from vendors can remove one of the major objections, because the price update standard contains the vendors’ UPC number. While the prices and costs are being updated, the UPC codes used for reading barcodes can also be verified. The Electronic Price Update Standard will help make the move to point of sale bar coding a lot less painful.

Accounts PayableAccurate and Quick Accounts Payable

When electronic price updates are used to update the inventory costs, then the purchase orders issued to vendors will be more accurate. If the right costs are in the inventory records, the costs on purchase orders will match the vendors’ costs. When the invoice comes in from the vendor, everything will match up properly, reducing calls to the vendor and speeding up the entire accounts payable process.

Gross Profit Margins

Since customers are often quoted prices as a percentage discount off the list price, if list prices are incorrect, the discounted prices will be incorrect and the profit margins will also be incorrect. Using the electronic price updates helps to protect the gross margins by making sure the list prices that are being used are current and correct. The newly revised Electronic Price Update Standard may be just one small step on behalf of the GAWDA Management Information Committee, but it is one giant step for the welding supply distributor.

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Automated Invoicing

One of the fun things I get to do each year is serve on the GAWDA Management Information Committee. Every time we meet, there's a brainstorming session about how technology can be used to reduce labor costs, increase profits or improve work flow processes for the welding supply distributor and vendor. The process of discussing different technologies and which ones offer the most benefit for the industry reminds me of a quote I once heard. It goes something like this: "The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created—created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.” That kind of sums of what we do at the meetings. We do our best as a committee to generate ideas, turn them into activity and ultimately develop a new process that hopefully benefits the industry.

Looking for Efficiencies

The last time the Management Information Committee met, one of the topics discussed was the headache of getting vendor invoices into the system. If you're a member of a buying group, then you might have experienced getting a huge stack of invoices in from the buying group that all have to be entered. Why? Because that is the way it has always been done. Just because we have always done it that way, do we have to continue to do it that way? The answer is a resounding NO!

As part of a three-way conversation between people representing distributors, vendors and technology companies, we discussed sending invoices electronically from vendors to the distributors. No one would have to manually enter stacks of invoices from the vendor or vendors, thereby reducing labor costs for the distributor. Time that had been spent entering invoices could be used in more productive areas. In addition, because technology is great at automating repetitive tasks, fewer mistakes would be made.

Let’s look at a current example. Take an incoming invoice or a stack of invoices from your largest vendor. You probably open the mail, put the invoices in a stack, throw away the envelope, bring up the invoice entry program, enter each invoice into the accounts payable system, double check for data entry errors and then compare the invoice to inventory receipts to make sure everything was received that is being billed for, and that the price being charged is correct.

Now let’s look into the future. The vendor sends the invoices to the distributor electronically. The distributor has no envelopes to open and throw away (think paperless, think green, think protecting the environment), and no paper invoice to file in a big bulky filing cabinet. It's all in the system. In the blink of an eye, quantities and prices are compared to purchase orders, and when everything matches up perfectly (which it should), the invoice is posted to the distributor’s accounts payable system. It's faster, it's easier, and errors are virtually eliminated.

The vendor has no paper invoices to print out, so there is less wear and tear on printers and fewer laser ink cartridges to buy and throw away. There's no envelopes or paper to buy, no postage and no labor costs associated with putting the invoices in the envelopes. The invoices go out faster because they are electronic. This means vendors can get paid sooner.

When we think of all the invoices flying from vendors to distributors and all of the associated costs that are involved, it's not hard to see that the industry is spending millions of dollars each year on this process. Unnecessary time and money is being spent on a task that is very repetitive and could be highly automated.

Project Status

The challenges to developing an electronic invoicing project are many. Multiple technologies, multiple computer systems and multiple businesses trying to talk to each other electronically. Variables and goals have to be clearly defined, and the technologies have to be available to all distributors from small mom-and-pop companies to Fortune 500 companies. It has to be simple enough for someone to operate without an IT department and economical enough for all to afford while still offering the benefit of labor savings. And that is exactly why the brain power at GAWDA had the foresight to put together the Management Information Committee. Distributors, vendors and technology companies are all coming together with the singular goal of helping the industry improve operational efficiencies.

Jim Broughton, a member of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee, is the president of DataWeld, located in Bossier City, Louisiana and on the Web at www.dataweld.com.

This article originally appeared in the First Quarter, Winter 2011 issue of Welding & Gases Today Copyright ©Data Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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XML can Work for You

Did You Know...? XML Can Work For You

The GAWDA Management Information Committee works on a variety of different areas when it comes to computer automation Few have as much potential benefit to distributors as the XML project the committee has been working on for the last several years.

What XML is, isn't nearly as important as what it does. In a nutshell, XML makes it easy for two totally unrelated computers to talk to each other. A perfect example is your computer talking to a vendor’s computer. Why would this be beneficial? That part is simple: To save you and your vendor lots of time on the telephone each day.

Every day, distributors pick up the phone, call their vendors and ask very simple questions, such as, "Do you have this helmet in stock? If you have it in stock, what is my price?” Each time a distributor calls, the inside sales team is tied up on the phone waiting for the answer and a customer is waiting to see if they want to buy the product.

The Management Information Committee, with the input of software companies, distributors and vendors, has established a standard method of asking this simple question. It's this method that can be implemented by any software supplier and any product vendors. This is referred to as the XML Pricing and Availability Standard. Here’s how it would work: When a customer wants to know if you can get a certain product from the vendor, instead of calling the vendor, enter the part number into the computer.

The computer would then send out a message to the vendor’s computer asking for your specific price on the item in question and how many are available. The vendor’s computer receives the request and, in a matter of seconds, sends the response back to your computer. What might have taken multiple phone calls and tied up at least two people is now handled in seconds. The best part is, the answer can be retrieved while your talking with the customer.

If this sounds like it could benefit your company and help them to become more productive, give your software supplier a call and ask them what is required to get this capability installed on your computer system. Then call your vendor to make sure they are incorporating the XML standard into their system.

Technology Advisory James R. Broughton is a member of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee and president of DataWeld.

This article originally appeared in the Fourth Quarter, Fall 2007 issue of Welding & Gases Today Copyright ©Data Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Asset Management

Helping Distributors Capitalize on the Latest in Asset Management Technology

Since we started creating software over 30 years ago, we've focused on helping the gases and welding supply distributors track their cylinder assets. In the medical field, there are general practitioners and then there are specialists. For the field of gases and welding distribution, DataWeld is an asset management specialist. Every program we develop is specifically designed to help distributors maximize their investment in cylinders and other types of containers.

Changing Needs

Being the longest serving GAWDA member of any software company in the industry. We've seen many technological changes. As computer systems have grown more powerful and software more flexible, we have been able to offer distributors new ways of doing business more efficiently.

Not so long ago, the primary mission of cylinder management software was simple: calculate rent. Today's needs are much more complex. Distributors want to charge daily rent on some cylinders, monthly on others, and give the option to prepay the rent. They also want to be able to answer customer questions in seconds or minutes, not hours or days. To eliminate cylinder disputes, a distributor may want to prove the accuracy of cylinder records by emailing the record of all transactions to a customer for the fiscal year. Due to the advances in cylinder management technology, the distributor can provide a customer with the appropriate information in much less time.

Advances in cylinder tracking by serial number have also been a major benefit to gases and welding supply distributors. Originally, distributors tracked serial numbers by hand. Then bar coding was introduced, making cylinder tracking faster and more accurate. When RFID tags (transponders) were introduced, DataWeld was the first to offer them as a means for tracking cylinders. Transponders have proven to be incredibly durable and long lasting.

Online Customer Service

While DataWeld has made great strides in providing the most up-to-date technologies for its customers, there remain under utilized technologies that can be a real asset to the gases and welding supply distributors.

The internet, for example, is a valuable tool for customer service and order taking. Instead of fielding through phone calls and tracking down information for customers, a distributor can use an internet based e-commerce product. This gives customers the ability to go online at their convenience, view open invoices and get copies without ever having to call the distributor. This saves everyone time and money.

Another big value for customers is giving them the ability to enter their own orders online. Many customers repeatedly purchase the same products. Imagine how much more satisfied those customers would be if they could simply visit the distributor's web site and place an order for cylinders. Furthermore, they could place these orders anytime, no longer having to stop during the busy hours of the day. Instead, they could turn the open sign off and quickly place the order at the end of the day. Once again, the distributor saves times, money, and has a more satisfied customer.

In today's competitive marketplace, it's crucial that the gases and welding supply distributors aggressively pursue new technologies to boost business and meet customer demand. The Google, Facebook, and Twitter generation expects to work with distributors who are able to respond to their ever changing technology needs.

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