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5 Reasons to Implement a Managed IT Services Solution

support-centerInformation Technology services are essential to the success of every organization, large or small. With increasingly competitive business environments, CEOs and small business owners are under great pressure to maintain a highly qualified staff and to make sure their technology is obtaining a better ROI than their competitors’.

These goals are not easily achieved, particularly for young or small businesses with less financial resources and time available. Having your own successful information technology department can eat up too much of the company’s budget and time resources, and eventually cause a loss of its competitive edge. These disadvantages of maintaining an in-house IT department are why companies of all sizes have turned to using managed service providers to either assist their existing IT department or become their virtual IT department, handling all of the technology involved in keeping their businesses running at optimal levels.

The benefits of using a managed IT services solution are numerous, but the top 5 benefits of managed services for business include:

  1. Benefit from the expertise of a specialist, without having to spend time and financial resources training your staff to become experts
  2. Decrease your technology risks with Managed IT Services. Your company doesn’t have to worry about losing and trying to replace trained staff members, or about repairing, implementing or replacing complex technology solutions with Managed IT Services
  3. Enjoy access to the most up-to-date, sophisticated technology solutions without having to invest in expensive equipment.
  4. Experience ultimate control over your business technology without having to manage an information technology department. This gives you the time you need to focus on what you do best: your business functions.
  5. Reduce stress and improve efficiency of your staff. When you make good use of Managed IT Services resources, your staff isn’t tied up with IT concerns and they have more time to focus on tasks that are productive for the business.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you benefit from managed IT services in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

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Why Your Company Needs An Internet Use Policy

email-stampWith computers and Internet access such an integral part of every business, and the Internet filled with everything from gambling to x-rated websites, it is critical that every business has an Internet Use Policy in place. This policy can help prevent your employees from accidentally or intentionally causing harm to your company or your company’s reputation. While you don’t want to give your employees the idea that they are living in George Orwell’s 1984, you want them to have a clear understanding of practices that are and are not appropriate during work hours. It is necessary for companies to create an Internet policy that everyone can live with.

Why Have An Internet Use Policy?

The purpose of a business is to make money. In order to accomplish this, the company has to have productive employees. The Internet can be a time drain and often prevent employees from being as productive as they should be. With such a wide range of information available on the Internet, it is necessary to clarify the company’s expectations of its employees regarding Internet access. With a strong policy in place, the employee, as well as the employer, will find Internet use less confusing and frustrating.

Another important reason to have a strong Internet Use Policy is to save your company from unnecessary lawsuits. Unless you have a clear policy on what is and is not acceptable on the Internet in your company, you can risk having an unfair dismissal lawsuit on your hands when an employee is abusing the company’s Internet.

What Elements Should Your Internet Usage Policy Contain?

When planning your Internet Use Policy, it should contain certain key elements such as:

  • The company Internet is for company business only and to be used only during company business hours
  • All work done on company computers during business hours, including all emails, is company property and can be accessed by the employer at any time.
  • Establish what type of computer use is unacceptable such as accessing personal social media accounts, personal email, pornographic websites, etc.
  • Employees must refrain from accessing websites, creating, or forwarding email that promotes any type of discrimination such as racial or sexual discrimination, or that is defamatory or harmful towards another person or group.
  • Employees are not allowed to gain access to or attempt to access other employee’s computers, employee stored information, or any information unauthorized by the company.

In addition to the guidelines above, inform your employees that whatever is done by the company, for the company, and on the company computers should remain confidential and within the confines of the company. In addition, let employees know that when they access unapproved sites, they risk infecting the company computer system with viruses that could possibly shut down the entire company network.

Having an Internet use policy in place helps to eliminate any confusion and possible abuse that could prevent a company from functioning productively. A solid Internet use policy help to make the work environment more pleasant and more conducive to getting the necessary work done in order to have a successful business. Creating a safe and productive environment is important for any business, and one way to ensure that is to implement an Internet use policy.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you benefit from an Internet Use Policy with our Technology Consulting Services in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

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Cloud Computing – How Will it Affect You?

happy-woman-working-on-laptopWe are always on the watch for the ‘next best thing’ when it comes to technology and the Internet. Certainly no one can doubt that Cloud Computing and the next generation of the Internet has had a dramatic affect on how people interact and connect with each other – both from an individual standpoint and a business one.

The hottest emerging concept that has the power to change how we perform tasks is taking place before us – and it is Cloud Computing. Simply put, it is the ability to use resources and tools via the Internet without actually owning or being near them. The only requirement is to be able to access them.

The term ‘Cloud’ is used to indicate the whole of computing services accessible via the Internet. It is an all-encompassing description of the complex internet-connected networks that exist in datacenters all over the world that power services and applications behind the scenes.

The concept of utilizing resources in these networks is being adopted by businesses both large and small. These resources are categorized to describe their function, and include:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Web 2.0

In the most general terms, Infrastructure as a Service means that companies may no longer need to own and house their own back-end servers and other network computing infrastructure besides an internet-connected PC or laptop in order to maintain business functionality. This capability can be purchased on a subscription basis from entities that market these services in a ‘virtual’ manner. This allows businesses to keep their costs low by not having to purchase, maintain and recycle their own equipment for this purpose, and also mitigates the possibility of business interruption due to the highly available nature of these solutions. This equates to increased uptime and profitability for Infrastructure as a Service customers.

Platform as a Service is also known as ‘cloudware’, and refers to the availability of development tools in creating web applications and services to the end user. Like IaaS, you never ‘see’ the inner-workings of this environment unless you are a computer programmer or IT resource, but it exists nonetheless and again affords those who use these tools the ability to reduce costs while running their businesses.

Sofware as a Service is defined as software applications that are subscribed to and accessed only through the Internet, and not installed on local PCs or laptops. Applications built by and accessed via Google fall into this category, as well as the many photo sites to which you can upload your pictures and videos, edit and share them with others. These solutions are gaining tremendous popularity, because end users do not need to install, update and maintain software locally – only connect to it and use it when the need arises.

Web 2.0 describes the whole of the social networking movement on the Internet, and includes but is not limited to destinations such as Facebook, MySpace, eHarmony, LinkedIn and Twitter. These sites offer the ability for people all over the world to share common interests, stay connected and learn more about each other – and these sites aren’t just for the young. Statistics show that the over 50 generation is logging onto these sites in greater numbers than ever before. In fact, in one month alone, Facebook adds over 17,000 new members.

The next time you are on the Internet and upload a photograph and use the online tools to modify that picture, you are participating in ‘cloud computing.’ The picture is probably loaded to a site that uses IaaS for their servers, PaaS in order to provide the visual interface in which you modify the photograph, and SaaS applications you’ll use to access your email program and social networking sites in order to send it to or post it for those with whom you would like to share the picture.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you benefit from Cloud Computing in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

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4 Tips For Getting the Most Out of Your Technology Investment

Touching TechnologyHow many times have you purchased new software or hardware, and avoided the help menu or user manual? Experts reason that about 90 percent of all features included with software go unused! Much of this comes down to lack of training for individuals using the technology – they use what they know and need most, and avoid anything that would require study or practice to implement. It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance, but with a little motivation you could better benefit from the money spent on technology for your business.

How to get the most out of your technology investment

Instead of letting your technology investments continue on underutilized, here are 4 tips for getting the most out of your technology dollars:

1. Put the client in the driver’s seat of communication.

You can improve the quality of customer service offered by your company through the use of simple technology. The more connected you are to your clients, the happier they are with your work. Use technology to give your clients a way to initiate discussion with you, either through blog interaction or a discussion forum. Set up instant messaging so clients can contact appropriate staff members as necessary. It’s simple technology, but will result in improved client retention, repeat customers and better communication.

2. Create a business culture of continuous improvement.

One of the most amazing aspects of technology is how quickly it is updated and improved. Just when you think you have the best of the best, new technologies and processes are created to improve productivity. Even in the sometimes mundane office environments, new ideas will enhance efficiency and productivity. Encourage staff and consultants to let the new ideas flow – continuous improvement is the key for making the most out of your technology.

3. Take advantage of training opportunities.

If the cost of sending staff to training courses is a bit much, and you’re unable to conduct monthly training seminars on your own – consider bringing in vendors and experts whenever a new version of software is released. You can also have managed service providers deliver training virtually as needed, in order to keep your staff up to date with the programs and tools used in the office.

4. Internal email newsletters with tips.

Most businesses recognize the value of sending newsletters to their clients to keep in touch and establish relationships, but what about internal newsletters among staff members? Send a weekly email to your staff with a single technology tip that explains how to do something that will improve their productivity or make their lives a little easier. Keep it fun and add a cartoon or a quick quiz to keep the staff looking forward to their weekly newsletter. Your ideas for topics can come from training and seminars you attend, or from questions staff ask the IT department. If one person doesn’t understand something, there are probably a few others who also don’t understand – but aren’t speaking up about it.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you make the most of your technology investment with our free Network Analysis and Security Assessment for your business in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

 

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The Importance Of Communication, Messaging and Collaboration In The Workplace

With so much technology and messaging and collaboration solutions at our fingertips, it is difficult to believe that there are any communication problems in any business today. In the course of a busy workday, the importance of good communication can be something that can be easily forgotten. If you are noticing that it is difficult to get your employees to work together cohesively, that morale is very low, or worse, that your business is losing money, you might need to take a second look at your company’s communication.

Use the Telephone

While phoning someone is still a good practice, it isn’t always the best mode of communication for every situation. Using the telephone is good for setting up meetings or discussing items for which there is a quick resolution. It is generally not a good venue to tell an employee that they made a mistake on their last assignment. Save that discussion for a one-on-one meeting.

Write an Email

Email is a fast and convenient way of communicating with colleagues and employees provided you follow a few guidelines. Use email for only disseminating factual information. If you are writing anything that could be misinterpreted, it is best to address that face-to-face. For example, if you are trying to remind an employee that something that they are doing is inappropriate in the workplace, an email might come across like an impersonal and angry lecture. This could end up causing a backlash from the employee rather than alleviating the situation.

Have a Meeting

Meetings can help bring employees and colleagues together and make them feel part of the company. It also helps to keep everyone apprised of what is happening in the company. It is probably the best way to communicate all important company business and ensure that everyone hears it. It is important to encourage open communication in the meetings, so that employees feel that they are heard and that what they say matters.

Try One-on-One Communication

With so many different modes of communication today, one-on-one communication often gets forgotten. It is so much easier to shoot someone an email or leave them a voicemail, but there are times when good old-fashioned face-to-face communication is still the best way to speak with a colleague or an employee. Many people do not feel comfortable bringing up their concerns or problems at a meeting. Things written on an Email and said on the telephone can often be misinterpreted when you are not able to see the person and read their body language. This is why a face-to-face meeting can be a much better option in this situation.

Listen

Listening is probably the most glossed over, yet most important piece of the of communication puzzle. Without the listening portion, any other piece cannot fully succeed. Employees and colleagues need to know that their input is being heard. Feeling unheard can often be the cause of low morale and high employee turnover. While listening does not necessarily mean incorporating each suggestion into your company or changing every policy based on what one employee says, it does mean giving the ideas full consideration.

In today’s highly technological society where everyone can do and access everything from their computer or cellphone through messaging and collaboration solutions, the importance of good communication cannot be stressed strongly enough. Using the appropriate mode of communication for different situations will make everything flow easier, and help make your employees feel that they are important and valued member of your company.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you benefit from messaging and collaboration solutions for your business in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

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Tips for Motivating and Retaining Good Employees

In today’s tough economic environment, with job cuts and pay decreases, it can be a challenge to keep your employees focused on their job and motivated. While many employers are struggling and can’t offer pay raises, bonuses and other cash benefits to their employees, there are a variety of other creative ways to keep them happy and on the job. In fact, statistics show that people do not necessarily need praise in the form of money to stay motivated. Most actually prefer some other form of recognition. Here are some tips that can help boost your employees’ morale and productivity, resulting in your motivating and retaining good employees.

Tips for Motivating and Retaining Good Employees

First, always address your staff by their name. It is a natural instinct for people to want to feel valued. They want to be recognized. Make it a priority to learn your employee’s names and always address them by name. It can be demoralizing to know that your boss does not care enough to know who you are.

Give praise. People want to be recognized for their efforts. Giving on the spot recognition, praise at employee meetings or recognition in the employee newsletter for those groups and individuals that go the extra mile is a great way to boost morale. While it is great to point out team efforts, people tend to crave individual recognition as well.

Offer opportunities. These can really be quite simple. Help your employees focus on their career path by offering them one on one training or advice. Reward your hard working employees with special job titles. Job titles are very important to workers. A fancy title makes them feel good about themselves and offers respect and praise from friends, family and other co-workers.

Provide leadership opportunities. Recognize your hard working employees by letting them take on a leadership role. Have them present at a company meeting, take on additional responsibilities or let them lead up a company project.

Foster Team Spirit. Make the time to gather employees together and drum up some fun competitions will very often foster increased work production. A great simple reward for the competition is extra time off. Now that does not mean extra vacation days, but simply letting employees come to work a little late one day, take an extended lunch hour or leave early. Taking an employee picture, framing it and hanging it can also foster a sense of belonging.

Provide a Good Working Environment. Making sure the work space is clean, cosmetically appealing and comfortable actually can make a difference. Employees are more motivated to come to work each day if they have an inviting environment to report to.

Have Casual Dress Days. Employees love to dress down and offering them an opportunity to do so can brighten their spirits and keep them happy. Many places of business will do dress down Fridays. Another fun idea is to have dress down theme days. For example the week of the Super bowl you could wear your favorite team jersey, on St. Patrick’s Day everyone could wear green and on Halloween people could come in a costume.

Provide opportunities for social gatherings. A final great way to keep company morale high is to offer employees time away from the office to socialize. Having a summer company picnic, a holiday party, gathering for a softball game or a trip to the golf course are all fun ideas.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you in motivating and retaining good employees by fostering more effective communication with our messaging and collaboration solutions for your business in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

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Why Your Company Needs an Email Policy

Email is an important and necessary part of your business. It provides an economical and instant means of communicating with staff, customers, and vendors – that’s both simple to use and enables increased efficiency. An email policy is required to protect this necessary business tool.

An email policy is a legal document that details your organization’s definition of acceptable use for the company email system. It should indicate who emails can be received from or sent to, as well as outline what constitutes appropriate content for work emails.

In addition, having a company email policy will:

Protect the Organization from Liabilities: When all employees read and sign an email policy, it proves they are aware and agree to the information contained in that policy. Should an email be sent that is not considered appropriate content according to the email policy, the employee, not the business, would bear the brunt of liability for any damages or suits brought as a result of their sending an inappropriate email.

Promote a Professional Environment: If email is used only in a professional manner in the workplace, you can be sure that embarrassing mistakes will not occur. For example, if staff are using work email to communicate with friends, the content in those emails are likely to be sloppy, unprofessional, and informal. If those emails accidentally get sent to clients or other professionals – the company image may become damaged. If an email policy does not allow for personal use of the work email system, your staff will remain in a professional mindset and eliminate the potential of personal emails going out to customers.

Increase Productivity: Email tends to be a distraction for employees who are using it for non-professional reasons. If an email policy prohibits the use of work email for personal use, your employees will stay on task more and avoid the distractions that come from sending and receiving personal emails during work hours.

Establish Systems for Email: If the email policy outlines appropriate content for an email sent during work hours over the company email system, it can also help establish systems to ensure all staff members are contributing to the brand or image of the company. Have each staff member use a template for email responses and set up signature lines that appear in all outgoing emails to further establish the company’s professionalism and image in the eyes of individuals who may receive email from your staff. Setting guidelines for content and use of email creates a single, comprehensive image of the company that helps keep the organization aligned with its mission.

An email policy is a document that provides your business with certain legal protections involving misuse of the email system by employees. Because it is a legal document, many businesses elect to have a lawyer draw up the email policy, or at the very least, review the policy before it is implemented within the organization. Having a lawyer review or prepare an email policy may seem like an unnecessary upfront cost, but has the potential to save you in legal fees in the future.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you implement and maintain a company email policy with our Email Messaging and Archiving Solutions for your business in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

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Proactive, Managed IT Services Save Small and Medium Businesses Thousands of Dollars Yearly

Every dollar a small business spends needs to have an immediate and quantifiable return. This is especially true for critical services such as I.T. support. If you are one of the millions of small businesses that depend upon your technology to keep your business running, proactive Managed IT Services will save you money, improve your efficiencies and reduce your downtime.

The Solution

With the advent of new monitoring tools and the ability to remotely deliver help desk services to small businesses all over the world, Managed IT Services Providers have developed proactive maintenance plans for their clients that maximize their uptime and reduce I.T. costs over time. By implementing newly available automated processes, systems can be patched and updated overnight without the need for onsite visits, or disrupting an organization’s work day.

In addition, remote help desk tools and technology allow Managed IT Services Providers the ability to react immediately and assist users when they experience day-to-day problems, without forcing them to wait for an on-site service call.

Forward-thinking Managed IT Services Providers are also implementing proactive remote Network Monitoring tools and services, which evaluate the performance of systems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and alert these Service Providers of potential issues before they become work-stopping problems for their clients.

The Details

Implementing and receiving the benefit of these solutions is painless for the Small Business Owner, as Managed IT Services Providers can begin delivering these cost-saving and efficiency-improving services soon after deploying specialized software agents on all managed equipment. These agents report device health, service pack and operating system, anti-virus and anti-spyware update information back to the Managed IT Services Provider’s monitoring systems, allowing real-time analysis and proactive management to occur.

Specialized software applications installed at the Managed IT Services Provider’s location also track all problems reported by their monitoring systems and end-users, and are used to document all steps initiated for resolution. These applications provide a ready knowledge-base of information which grows over time, allowing swift resolution for issues that have been previously documented.

The Benefits

Benefits from Managed IT Services enjoyed by Small Business Owners are many, and include increased operational efficiency, the ability to reduce and control their operating costs and gain access to Enterprise-level support. In addition, these Small Business Owners are now able to focus on running their businesses, and not their networks, and receive the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge their networks are being monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Cloud Computing Security: Is the Cloud Ready for Your Confidential Data?

What is Cloud Computing?

You can’t look anywhere these days without reading about “cloud computing.” The term seems to be popping up everywhere. So, what exactly is cloud computing? A simplistic definition is computing on the Internet. It allows users the ability to access everything on the Internet, from software to their stored data, without having to store anything on their actual computer. The user only needs a computer with a web browser in order to access the cloud.

What is So Great About Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing has the potential to allow small businesses or businesses on a budget the ability to have high quality computing at a lower cost. Business owners no longer need to invest in expensive IT equipment or pay an entire IT staff that would normally be required in order to keep a computer system running. Storing data in the cloud would help reduce IT costs while still allowing businesses to grow.

What Cloud Computing Concerns Does Your IT Service Provider Need to Address?

Cloud computing is such a new technology that your IT Service Provider will need to complete a thorough assessment of your business needs and identify all cloud-related security issues. Some of these concerns are:

  • If you store your valuable business documents in the cloud and your Internet connection goes down, how do you continue business activity?
  • The stability of the Cloud vendors you engage with.
  • Where your company located and where your data physically be stored. If your data is stored in another country, is that country required to comply with the same security standards that you would expect from your home country?
  • Who is in charge of storing and managing your data?
  • How secure is the login? Would hackers be able to easily gain access to your data?
  • Is your data encrypted so that others cannot easily view it?
  • Is the cloud storage company willing to undergo a certification process and willing to comply with certain security standards?

At this point, working with your IT Service Provider to develop a plan to resolve these issues is required, as cloud computing has so much to offer businesses from flexibility to growth potential to tremendous cost savings.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you implement and maintain a secure Cloud Computing strategy for your business in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

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How to Save on IT Costs During a Recession

Here are some tips to Save on IT Costs during a recession:

Individuals become more frugal as the economy dips. Businesses who learn how to reduce their operating expenses are far more likely to survive economic downturns and recessions than those who continue to operate “business as usual”. For many business owners, information technology costs are expensive; here are some tips to save on IT costs during a recession:

Switch to VOIP Phone Lines: Are you still paying high phone bills to make sales calls, handle customer service, or hold teleconferences? This is an expense that almost all businesses can save simply by switching to VOIP lines instead of your landline or cellphone service. From Vonage to Packet8 to Skype, there are numerous options that help you eliminate expensive long distance charges. Most businesses report a savings of around 60% when switching to telephone lines that operate through their internet connection.

Consider Switching to a Less Expensive ISP: Depending on your business needs, you may not require all of the features your current Internet Service Provider is offering. Why pay for something you don’t need? Check other ISP’s to see if you could be saving money.

Consider Dropping Your Merchant Account: Most businesses require a merchant account in order to accept credit cards as payments from their customers. With the increasing merchant account expenses, though, this is often a costly expense. You could still accept credit cards if you switch to an online payment processor, like Paypal, and avoid paying statement fees and monthly fees that are typical of regular merchant accounts. Online payment processors charge a higher fee per transaction than a standard merchant account, but depending on the volume of credit card transactions you may pay less overall than you do with your current merchant account. Run some numbers to see if the savings are significant enough to warrant a switch.

Use a Laptop: If reasonable, use a laptop instead of a full PC. A laptop consumes 90% less energy than the desktop version, and for many businesses, a laptop can do the job as well as a desktop.

Share Stuff: Do you have a computer and printer at every workstation in your office? Sell the individual printers and get a single printer that operates on the network. All computers in the office can print from the same printer and eliminate maintenance requirements on each individual printer, as well as reduce the energy required to power the printers. Think of other computer components that could be networked instead of used individually to further cut costs and set up a more efficient office.

Use Freelancers: When you discover you have a need for someone to complete a project that falls outside the scope of your current employees – instead of hiring another full time or part time employee, consider using a freelancer. Freelancers don’t require office space, do not receive the employee benefits you provide to your current staff, and can be hired on a per-project basis instead of placed on salary.

Downsize Your IT Department or Re-evaluate Your Current Outsourced IT Service: Consider using a flat rate IT support service rather than maintaining a full IT department on payroll, or maintaining a reactive outsourced IT service whose monthly costs are unpredictable. Flat rate IT service providers allow you to budget for and reduce your monthly and overall costs, increase your profits and act as your virtual IT department so you can focus on running your business and not the technology that supports it.

Click here to learn how Zero Downtime Networks – Managed IT Services | Hosted Cloud Services | Hosted VoIP can help you save on IT costs with our IT Assesment and Planning Services for your business in Austin, TX and surrounding cities.

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