Sharing documents and the Open Document Format

What’s The Open Document Format about?

If you ever send or receive computerised documents by email, this is important for you.

Have you ever you received a document that you did not have the right program to read (Word, Office, Adobe, docx, pdf etc), or the contents were rearranged? And isn’t it frustrating to have to upgrade software you are used to just because others do?

The Open Document Format helps.

What is a document format?

When a computer saves something you have typed on the screen, it puts it in a thing called a file. The file is what you attach when you email it to someone, and the format is the way that your program writes the file.

Now, various computer programs write their files in different formats. It’s as if one saves your document in language A and one saves it in language B. The person the other end can only read your document as you wrote it if their program also reads that file format or ‘language’. If you have the same program, about the same age, then you will be ok.

Why don’t documents get saved in the same universal format?

There is a technical argument that some formats cannot cope with new, clever things that software companies invent for us to use. So formats need to change every few years.

There is a commercial fact that if you get enough people on the same software, everyone else has to buy it in order to share information. Equally, if you tweak your format every few years then everyone has to buy an upgrade in order to keep in step, so as a software supplier you sell a new program to write letters even when the old one still works fine.

What is the Open Document Standard?

Adopting the Open Document format is the UK government’s attempt to decide which of the file formats is comprehensive enough to cover most needs, and suggest that is used for all communication. My opinion of the reasons for this are:

  1. in order to make their documents available to everyone, the govt would need to issue documents in every format that was around, and that takes time and cost
  2. it costs UK businesses a huge amount of money each year upgrading when many do not need the functions provided by the ‘latest upgrades’
  3. being tied to one software supplier just to read documents is not a competitive market
  4. most importantly, some software suppliers do not publish details about how their format works. So if that software company goes out of business or stops supporting its ‘outdated’ formats, both you and the govt lose the ability to open and read older old documents!

Why should I use the Open Document Format?

  1. To eliminate the familiar problem of someone asking you to resend in a different format, download a new program or upgrade
  2. to give you the choice which word processor you use
  3. to give you the chance to invest in new software when you need to, not when incompatibility forces you to
  4. so that you will still be able to read your own documents in years to come

How can I use the Open Document Format?

Most software packages now allow you to change the ‘default’ format when you save a file. It will be in your user settings and you will also be asked when you install new software. You certainly do not have to spend any money to start using this standard. There may be a few minutes needed in training, but it is very simple. You only need to alter the default once.

Libreoffice and google docs have automatically used this standard for years. Libreoffice is used by millions and can be downloaded for free, so give it a try whatever you already use – it will look very familiar and does most things well in my view (I’ve used it for ten years now).

Further reading

More details from the UK government here.

Guardian comment here.

An article about how some software suppliers worried about how they might lose the ability to keep you tied in with them here.

Barclays Bank Computer theft

This is one post what I am going to revise as the story unfolds, so keep an eye on it. The interesting part to me is how do you track people on your sites and places of work? BBC article here

Monitoring People on Site

It is so common to visit a workplace (other than as a customer) and follow someone through a pass-protected door, or sign in yet leave by another entrance and drive away with a visitors pass still in your pocket. So although security is a specialism in its own right I though I would jot down a few questions we all need to consider, then act on if we suspect that our answers are weak.

Visitor Security self-assessment

  • in an emergency am I sure that anyone could know who was left in the building?
  • what help can neighbouring businesses be to each other?
  • how important do people really think visitor books and passes are?
  • can all your colleagues challenge a visitor about their identity confidently and politely? How well would they be supported if their challenge was not well-received?
  • what impression does a visitor get from all the areas they might visit?
  • how well do visitors have to be known before scrutiny is relaxed?
  • if my insurance company tested the system with a visit, how would they rate us as a risk?
  • do you use technology effectively and unobtrusively?

Next Actions

I made this post to gather my thoughts and perhaps help a few people with some searching questions. To me, the points above tell me about your approach to business or project planning, safety, theft, sabotage, intellectual property, branding, leadership and employee relations.

If you want someone who can pose those questions in confidence then help you improve your answers, call me.

Workshop – your next business plan

I have just returned from a very useful workshop held by the Fieldfare LEADER group, which included great advice on keeping records for a grant-funded project and also gave information about future RDPE LEADER grants.

Workshop – Making plans for your future

I am able to work in conjunction with the Fieldfare team and offer a 3-hour workshop for businesses or community organisations to make plans and clarify your ideas for the future. The workshop will be useful for anyone, not just those who have a grant in mind. Here are the key points:

  • housekeeping
    • to take place before the end of March 2013
    • cost approx £20 (plus VAT) per person
    • duration 3 hours, probably to take place on a weekend
    • venue – Winchester
  • content
    • your main goals
    • gathering your ideas
    • what information and resources do you need
    • what about the money

You will leave knowing more about what  you want and what steps will help you to get it. We will decide on follow-up workshops as necessary.

Complete the form below now if you are interested – we can only run with enough applicants.


[contact-form-7 id=”577″ title=”Workshop interest”]

Regulations for Online Sales

Internet Sales

As we lead up to the festive season a lot of people will be buying and selling online.

If your business relies on internet sales, or (selling online) then you need to know about website compliance – distance selling regulations that will apply to you. There are loads of guides to do with website marketing and how to sell online, but it is well worth reading a good guide on how to comply with the rules and regulations that protect people who buy online.

Online Selling Rules

Items bought via your online shop will be subject to the Distance Selling Regulations, and there is a lot of information in the Distance Selling Hub run by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the UK. The five key principles below are taken from the OFT website and if you want to find out if you are doing the right thing, click our links and go straight to the web compliance tips on their website.

We will add more posts when they issue more guidance on internet sales or internet rules and laws.


Excerpt from the OFT site:

 

Five of the simplest ways to make your website more compliant with distance selling regulations are by doing the following:

Providing a full geographic address
Providing a proper email contact address
Flagging up hidden or unexpected charges early in the buying process
Being clear and open about cancellation rights
Providing a full refund plus refund of delivery charges when things go wrong

Click here for more information on how to make sure your website is clear and accurate

 

As you can see – straightforward, practical and useful reminders. Do please google+ or rccommend this page using the links below to share it with your contacts.

Employers’ pension obligations – September 2012 update

Employer pension duties

September 2012 introduces new duties for employers regarding pensions. This summary (prepared by Active Solutions HR Consultants) gives you the basics so that you can consider what professional help you need.

UK Pensions Situation

As the UK population is living longer and the pension pot is becoming more stretched, the government is encouraging people to take more personal responsibility for saving. From September 2012 large employers are expected to automatically enrol certain employees into a pension scheme and make a contribution. Over the next few years all businesses will be required to comply with this change in law.

When the 2012 pension changes affect you

This depends on how many people you employed on 1st April 2012. Employers with fewer than 30 staff will be affected between September 2016 and April 2017; those with 62-89 staff 1st May 2014; and those with 62 to 89 staff will be affected on 1st July 2014. The Pensions Regulator will contact you between 6 and 12 months before the date your business will be affected.

What employer pension duties will be

You must:

  • Provide a qualifying pension scheme
  • automatically enrol all eligible employees
  • make a contribution
  • tell all eligible employees scheme details
  • register certain details of the scheme with the Pensions Regulator

You must NOT:

  • encourage staff to opt out
  • bias your recruitment so potential staff agree to opt out
  • treat workers unfairly or put them at a disadvantage because of automatic enrolment

Who this applies to (eligible workers)

Workers who:

  • Earn more than the minimum earnings threshold (currently £5,564)
  • Are aged between 22 and state pensions age and
  • Work in the UK

What contributions will be expected

Ultimately you will be expected to contribute at least 3% of their earnings and you can pay more if you wish. The worker will also be expected to contribute a total minimum contribution of 8%. Initially employer contributions will be 1%. The time scale for increases will be confirmed nearer the time.

If you already have a pension scheme

Your current pension scheme may already qualify. Find further details here

If your current scheme does not qualify then the advice of a financial adviser is recommended.

Useful links:

Active Solutions HR Consultants

The Pensions Advisory Service: www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk

Financial Services Authority: www.moneymadeclear.fsa.gov.uk

Department for Work and Pensions: www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/pensions-reform

what to do about scam text messages

Well, two minutes after I completed the post about scams in general, a scam text arrived on my mobile! I decided to try out the Action Fraud site.

For info the text was from +447548018526 and read “Freee Msg; Our records indicate you may be entitled to £3750 for the accident you had. To apply free reply CLAIM to this message. To opt out text STOP.”

Hmm – clicked on “report a fraud” and the first question is ‘is the fraud happening now?”. “Yes”, I answered – the site immediately displayed “Call 999 and ask for the Police”.

I didn’t. I went back and said “No”, to see if I got a less dramatic option. I then got some ethnicity and diversity questions which I duly completed. Then a page asking about the victim’s location, gender etc. At this point I gave up – I want to report an attempted and not an actual fraud.

After a brief look (remember this is a facility to conveniently report something) I decided that the person who wrote the website did not have a simple reporting process in mind. I used the Action Fraud search box for “report scam text”, which seemed as good as any term. Amongst the many relies was a link to the PhonepayPlus organisation, who had a nice big box into which I could type the originating number. It drew a blank but lacked a useful “add a new scam number” facility, like you can get on saynoto0870.com, which is great for finding real phone numbers and avoiding 0870 ones.

What now? Well, I’ve got work to do but am disappointed that if money is being spent on regulation there is no simple way to report the numerous scam texts which come through. Perhaps there is scope for a site?

Do reply to this post with the numbers of any text scams you receive, at least they will be collected somewhere!

Getting rid of scam emails and calls

Recent campaigns to prevent scams

February was “Scams Awareness Month” when the government’s National Fraud Authority re-launched its “Action Fraud” 24-hour online reporting service, aimed at reducing letter post and telephone scams said to be cheating Britons out of millions of pounds per year. In March, Action Fraud set up an additional reporting service to tackle scam e-mail messages, establishing a dedicated e-mail address – email@actionfraud.org.uk – where scam messages can simply be forwarded. The plan is for all e-mails sent to Action Fraud to be shared with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, run by the City of London Police, for collation and analysis. “This will enable crucial intelligence to be gathered and preventative action to be taken, seeking to disrupt the fraudsters and close down the links between them”, according to Dr Bernard Herdan, CEO of the National Fraud Authority, who runs Action Fraud. He added: “This is the first time we have been able to collect and analyse scam mail and e-mails in this way. Collecting intelligence is the key to us being able to disrupt the activities of fraudsters and target their networks for closure”. One bank – HSBC – has been running its own scam reporting service since last year, asking targeted e-mail recipients to forward any suspect messages involving the bank to phishing@hsbc.com.

The response from Action Fraud

If you take up the government’s invitation to forward scam e-mail messages to Action Fraud via email@actionfraud.org.uk, they may be ‘bounced back’ – apparently rejected by a standard spam filtering service (at first glance the worst possible thing to have in place for a service specifically designed to accept mail with dubious content).

But according to Action Fraud “Please note, We have still received the scam emails you forward to us even if you get a bounce back message. The bounce back message just means the email has gone into a holding area for spam, which is then released and received by us as usual”, so all seems OK.

As an alternative, Action Fraud suggest sending printed copies of scam e-mails to their offices in Manchester, although the very information they need – about the true senders of the messages and the ‘click here’ links that reveal the addresses of fraudulent Web sites – are unlikely to survive when translated to paper.

Ideally, you need to forward the entire email in as complete a form as possible – your email viewer (outlook, thunderbird or other) may strip out the details of links)

So, fingers crossed.

Note – this update has been extracted form the monthly newsletter of Zen, a highly recommended broadband provider.

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 Explained

As there is a flurry of shopping happening at this time of year, I thought is worth spending a few minutes looking at peoples’ rights.

It can often seem that the SALE of Goods Act is interpreted differently in every place you go to, so I thought that you might like to see some great resources produced by the Office of Fair Trading for both buyers and sellers.

More comprehensive information will be in the Simply Work for Yourself course (launched in January), but meanwhile here is a link to the Office of Fair Trading site for you to have a look at the information yourself. To save time, a couple of the key downloads are listed here.

Sale of Goods Act – guide ‘at a glance’

Sale of Goods Act – explanatory booklet