Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Google Docs merging with Norada's Solve360 CRM

With the introduction of add-ons to Google Docs and Sheets last month, Google has greatly simplified what used to require the manual copying and pasting of Google Apps Script code.

Our most-often recommended CRM product, Norada's Solve360, has now introduced their own add-on for Google Docs that allows you to create merged documents and labels from records that already exist in your Solve360 database. We've tested it, and it works very well, with a couple of caveats. The biggest is that you can't create a form letter and mass-email it to your contacts; you can only email a merged document to an individual contact. Additionally, the merged document is attached to an outgoing email as a PDF.

Before you can start merging, you have to lay the groundwork for these new features. If your Google Apps domain is on Scheduled Release rather than Rapid Release, you'll need to manually enable add-ons for your users through your admin control panel. Next, either search "Solve360 CRM" in the add-on store or click this link to open the add-on's page. Click the Add-ons Install Button button in the top right-hand corner of the page, follow the prompts, and the add-on will be installed for you, though it could take up to an hour if you're adding it to an existing document.
Note that add-ons are installed on user accounts and are not domain-wide; if you want all your employees to have access to this feature, they each need to enable the add-on.

Most often when you're merging from a CRM to generate a document, it's some sort of form letter that is semi-personalized for multiple recipients. In this case, you'll need to change the first drop-down box in the add-on control panel to "set of documents" from its default, "documents". (If you want to create a single form document, feel free to leave this setting at its default; Norada has some great help docs here that you can follow.)

This feature works best if you use Category Tags to separate your contacts into appropriate groups. For this example, we'll use our "Customer-Google Apps" tag:

After clicking "Load records", we're presented with a brief summary of the number of contacts (in this case) that we'll be merging. You can see that our category tag contains 206 contacts that match the tag "Customer-Google Apps".

Switch back to your document and write out your message. Make sure that you write it in such a way that you can simply drop your Solve360 fields in place using the "Insert fields" button to insert the appropriate Solve360 fields into your message, like the document below.

Click "Create document" and wait for the system to chew through all the records (it could take a little while). You can now view the merged document in Google Docs or download it as a PDF. To send multiple messages, open the merged document in Google Docs, select the first merge, and copy and paste it into an email.

Google Docs and Sheets add-on functionality will only grow as the services become more full-featured, so if there's something you want to do with Google Docs that you couldn't in the past, check them out.

There are already dozens of add-ons available and they've only been around for a month!

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Heartbleed bug and why a secure password matters even more now

In early April 2014, a huge vulnerability was uncovered in a cryptographic software library used by an estimated two-thirds of web servers currently in use around the world. This vulnerability allows an attacker to request data from the memory of any server that uses OpenSSL and potentially read unencrypted passwords, confidential or sensitive information, e-mails, or anything else the server happens to return.

According to Ars Technica:
The leak is the digital equivalent of a grab bag that hackers can blindly reach into over and over simply by sending a series of commands to vulnerable servers. The returned contents could include something as banal as a time stamp, or it could return far more valuable assets such as authentication credentials or even the private key at the heart of a website's entire cryptographic certificate.
Just how bad is this bug? Mark Loman, a malware and security researcher at SurfRight, tested a few public servers after hearing early reports of this bug and noticed that plain text usernames and passwords were being returned to him by Yahoo Mail, one of the world's most widely-used webmail services. Further investigation showed that Flickr, Tumblr, and a number of other Yahoo properties were vulnerable, potentially exposing millions of users to account compromises.

Mark posted a pair of screenshots to Twitter that show account credentials in plain text (see below). Mark courteously obscured the usernames and passwords affected, but it's not hard to imagine other people being somewhat less polite.

Tell me the truth, doctor, how bad is it?

On a scale of 1 to 10, the general consensus is 11. Remember, the servers involved have potentially been leaking their private security keys which means anyone can 'fake' being them, and you'd have no way of knowing for sure.

What does this mean for me?

If you're a systems administrator who controls a number of servers, it means lots of work to get everything patched and authenticating properly again.

One option is to start using a password manager. So many web servers use OpenSSL that it's likely some service you've encountered at some point will be compromised. Limit the attack vectors to your accounts by using unique passwords, and even if someone gains access to that forgotten account you set up once, they won't get access to that important account that you use every day.

Also use two-factor authentication wherever you can. Two-factor authentication protects you even in the event that someone does manage to get your password by requiring a second, randomly-generated "token" that expires every 45 seconds or so to allow you to access your account.

Thankfully, if you use Google Apps or Microsoft Office 365 you're safe. Microsoft doesn't use OpenSSL and instead relies on its own encryption mechanism and Google Apps/Gmail has been using forward secrecy since November 2011. Google is patching other services affected by the Heartbleed bug, but it never hurts to change your password regularly.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Google Apps, Uber, and Netflix – Disruption and doing things 10 times better

As a relatively small market compared to the ten-fold larger United States, Canada is slow to receive the latest in disruptive technologies. Netflix rolled out its now-ubiquitous video streaming service in the US in 2008, and Canada didn't get Netflix streaming until September 2010. Now incumbents like Rogers are racing to provide Netflix-like functionality.

Uber does everything you need
and looks good doing it.
Another example is the oft-beset-upon taxi service Uber. Traditionally, when you need a taxi in a hurry, you either run to your nearest major street and hope that an empty one rolls past or you phone the taxi company. Then you have to wait for the taxi to show up and hope it's not nabbed by someone else in the meantime. Once you arrive at your destination, calculating the tip, giving payment, and getting a receipt is a cumbersome process that hasn't changed significantly in many years.

Uber allows anyone to request a ride via a mobile app or the web. Drivers arrive curbside in just minutes, you can track the movement of your ride, and you receive a text message when your driver arrives to pick you up.

Once you've arrived at your destination, Uber handles the payment automatically through the app and your online account. No need to fumble with cash or wait for a credit card transaction to process through a painfully slow payment terminal over a cellular connection. With Uber, the cab driver simply ends the ride on his smartphone and the payment is processed. You'll have the receipt in your email by the time your feet hit the curb.

Uber first launched in San Francisco in 2009, and has since rolled out to more than 50 cities in 20 countries, including Toronto and Montreal. The service only recently launched in Toronto area, though, and since it relies on local drivers to provide rides, there aren't many cars available in the area just yet. In San Francisco, "No one under the age of 40 with a smartphone is going out and getting a cab anymore."

I had the opportunity to experience first hand how Uber has transformed the marketplace in San Francisco while attending the 2014 Google Global Partner Summit. My three Uber trips were an eye-opening experience that tells me this is going to cause a similar market disruption in Toronto. It's just a matter of time.

Mississauga Taxi
On the other hand, Mississauga Taxi
looks and behaves as dated as it is.
Local companies like Mississauga Taxi have an app that works, but it doesn't see much competition from Uber at the moment. They haven't taken it to the next level to turn it into a disruptive technology. The Mississauga Taxi app omits vehicle choices, automatic payment processing, visibility of cars in the area, or a custom pick up location by dropping a pin. Its address search is cumbersome as it couldn't find the local Port Credit GO Station which Google Maps finds and autocompletes before I finish typing it.

The one nice feature was the ability to monitor the location of the cab dispatched to pick me up. After that, the taxi ride and payment experience is just like the old days and it took me longer to use the app than it would have to pick up the phone and call the cab company. In fact, when I arrived at my destination the Mississauga Taxi driver was fortunate that an individual not willing to wait for the next train to downtown tapped on his window and asked for a ride. However, the in-a-rush new customer had to wait while my cab driver booted up the payment terminal from scratch, entered the cab fare, inserted my credit card, let me enter the tip amount, my pin code, wait for the slow cellular data connection to process the payment, then finally print the receipt. With Uber in San Francisco, I simply got out of the cab and felt my smartphone vibrate immediately with the emailed receipt. What a massive difference in customer and driver experience!

Technologies like Netflix and Uber tend to be borne out of frustration with the traditional way of doing things, and Google thinks the same way, all the way from the very highest levels. Larry Page has said he, "expects his employees to create products and services that are 10 times better than the competition." Why? Because products and services like the Google Apps won't cause market disruptions if they are designed to be only two or three times better than the incumbents like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes. You have to start fresh and completely change the way things are done to have any hope of making things 10 times better. Only then will you cause a disruption.

Miss the disruptive wave and you can end up like BlackBerry, a business that will continue to survive, but will also continue to downsize to match their shrinking customer base.

So why stick with the incumbents who always seem to be two steps behind, responding with too little, too late? Get Google Apps for your business now and earn more money like the individual taxi drivers in San Francisco that ditched the traditional cab company and switched to Uber.

Google Apps let you work the way you live by enhancing consumer products used by billions with the features and controls that your business needs to be productive, innovative and successful. Google Apps will change the way you do business!