Posts in Communication

Lessons from Cisco Live 2020

August 3rd, 2020 Posted by Best Practices, Communication 0 thoughts on “Lessons from Cisco Live 2020”

Like most live events this year, Cisco Live 2020 was moved to a virtual format and over June 16 and 17, allowed attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in Cisco technology updates, new product announcements and insights from the company’s executives.  So while it looked a little different this year, the information was valuable as always. Here are just a few of the key takeaways from the conference to help you with the technology side of your business.

 

Leadership

Strong, adaptable leadership is more important than ever during this global crisis. The business landscape is changing at an increased rate, and new challenges are cropping up around every corner. Whether it is adjusting to a remote workforce and the management/cultural changes it requires, adapting your cybersecurity standing to cover multiple locations, or creating whole new ways for your customers and clients to interact with your staff and products, now is the time for creative thinking, proactive decision making, and an openness to new ideas.

“With all the other business headwinds the last thing you want is to lose your key people assets because you made changes out of fear that ruined your company culture and decreased employee engagement.  Leaders must be teachers/mentors, focus on strengths, and prioritize learning while companies must be transparent, lean into learning, and continue to make investments.  Companies that take their foot off the gas now are not going to be in a position to grow and innovate when the economy recovers, regardless if that is this year, or in a few years, said Darrell Brooks, Think’s Director of Infrastructure.

 

Resiliency

For years the focus has been on growing our businesses, using every possible advantage to gain a stable footing and expand. Unfortunately, for some businesses this pandemic has shown where the focus was too much on growth and not enough on stability, sustainability, and resiliency. It’s time to regroup and reassess, to ensure that our business practices, technology, and culture are all equipped to support businesses that can withstand change and adapt to new environments.

 

The Right Tools

With an eye to supporting effective leadership and communication, resiliency, and security, Cisco has continued to improve on their cooperative working platform Webex. They announced their new Webex Desk Pro video conferencing solution along with features such as integrated smart assistant.  This new AI assistant built into many of the new Webex products gives you a virtual assistant that can help take notes and action items for you while you are in your conference and then e-mail them to you.  This is a very cool feature for the new remote work world we live in.

Also just a reminder, Webex was designed from the ground up with business-level security built-in.  This can’t be said for other home-grade video conferencing products that have become popular during the pandemic. And securing a network spread over multiple locations is a new priority for many businesses. Webex can help you do that without increasing the burden on your IT staff.

 

Here at Think, Cisco Webex has been more important, and more useful, than ever before. The video conferencing feature has allowed for our staff to connect and communicate from wherever they happen to be. This is vital to maintaining our close-knit team and the sense of humor that is helping us all adjust to a new normal. In one-on-one communication, the chat and share screen features are invaluable. It’s possible to send documents and written notes during phone or video conversations, and the share screen feature allows for real-time sharing and editing of documents. This is especially helpful during tutorials and troubleshooting.

Times are changing, but with resilient technology solutions, engaged employees, and a vibrant company culture, your company will be ready to meet the challenges of the pandemic, weak economy, and any new challenges that are ahead.

‘What’ is going cost your business big bucks!

July 13th, 2020 Posted by Best Practices, Communication, Managed Service Provider, Services 0 thoughts on “‘What’ is going cost your business big bucks!”

The COVID19 pandemic has changed a lot about the way we work, and it’s likely that some of the changes will stay with us even after the virus has passed. Virtual conferencing is probably one of them. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Social distancing has created conditions where high quality, reliable communications technologies are essential if businesses want to connect with their clients and customers and continue to compete with their competition. Are your communications technologies pulling their weight at this critical time?

Losing 29 minutes per week

According to a recent survey by EPOS, the average worker is losing up to 29 minutes of productivity per week due to poor sound quality on calls and conferencing. It’s something your employees are acutely aware of, and they’re trying to make up the difference. But there’s no way to avoid lost time when you have to repeat questions, ask for clarification, or send supplemental emails to ensure that information is communicated clearly. And this wasted time adds up quickly. Businesses with more than 50 employees risk losing more than $35,000 per year in lost revenue due to audio issues.

Outdated or low quality audio technology, background noise, a low quality internet connection, and a loud working environment are all cited as reasons for experiencing poor sound. The consequences can be considerable for a company’s bottom line, especially in any business where fine margins could make the difference between a company surviving or going under. One in three decision makers say technology issues are the reason they avoid using video for conference calls. These days, asking  ‘What?’ is costing your business real dollars!

Sound investments

We’re all painfully familiar with the issues raised in the EPOS report: the embarrassment of having to ask your boss or coworkers to repeat themselves (or being too frightened not to); booming background noise that makes it difficult to hear in a meeting; and the anxiety and frustration caused by static and broken conversations. The more we work remotely, the more of a problem it becomes.

Luckily there are ways to mitigate these problems. Seventy-nine percent of company decision makers believe that quality audio equipment can be an effective antidote to poor-quality sound, and they’re absolutely right. It’s time to ditch the $10 ear buds everyone is complaining about and upgrade. Look for Unified Communications (UC) certified headsets and headphones – this means the product is optimized for use with computer hardware and software. Make sure it comes with noise cancelling technology, to reduce background noise and make speech clearer. Equally important is a high-quality microphone, so the listeners can understand you clearly.

Some useful tools

You’ll want your headsets to be compatible with UC conferencing platforms featuring HD video and audio, like Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoTo Meeting, BlueJeans Meeting or Amazon Connect (to name a few). Make sure your conferencing software includes cloud services, capacity for dozens of on-screen participants and robust security features – which may include the use of a VPN. After that it’s really about which format best suits your business. Basically, the more video conferencing feels like an in-person meeting, the better.

A few other tips that can help with making video conferencing better for everyone include: Stick to company dress codes/standards, just as you would in person. Do what you can to ensure that your work place is clean, quiet, and uninterrupted during meetings. Position the camera so the focus is on you, without distracting/busy backgrounds. Provide adequate lighting, so everyone can see you clearly. And, last but not least, become a pro at using the “Mute” button. Use “mute” whenever you’re not speaking to avoid feedback and background noise that will affect everyone in the meeting. Just remember to unmute before making that critical point.

Enterprise Solutions

IT Management Challenges During COVID-19

May 20th, 2020 Posted by Best Practices, Cloud, Communication, Hosted Services, Managed Service Provider, Services 0 thoughts on “IT Management Challenges During COVID-19”

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every aspect of business. The increase in remote working has created new challenges for IT departments that are stretching the limits of their knowledge and capabilities. An increase in telecommuting changes the demand on network infrastructure, causing a surge in user support tickets and requests, and new security threat management obstacles.

How are businesses managing these new challenges and the associated expenses? Here is a deeper look at three common challenges IT teams are facing due to the rise in the remote working:

Connectivity outside the office

Ensuring a stable connection between the end-users and the network, data, and/or apps, is becoming significantly more challenging. Now that organizations are outside the office and potentially across the country, there are simply more layers to manage and more points of failure to cover. In many cases, IT departments have been scrambling to maintain a reliable and secure network infrastructure to handle the increased load and new demands. They are not properly staffed in house to effectively manage these needs, and there’s no reason they would be.

Providing end-user support

COVID-19 has forced many organizations to rapidly deploy new tools to help collaborate and communicate throughout their organization, with their customers and partners. With the unfamiliarity and lack of experience with these new tools and capabilities, end-users are being left frustrated and inevitability on the phone with the service desk. This rise in user support requests has internal IT departments spread extremely thin; especially true for IT organizations who share responsibilities between teams… Remember, we still have the expanded infrastructure needs to manage. This problem isn’t getting any easier.


Managing the additional security risks of COVID-19 

Now that data is no longer kept within business walls, it poses additional risk of data leakage and loss. Further, employees’ minds are on the COVID-19 outbreak, so the new collaboration software IT just force fed to them isn’t top of mind.  In fact, there have been so many changes they have had to make in their daily routine, changes in their business environments may take a back seat. Let’s face it, our guards are down and we’re susceptible to attacks, at the time when security should be of the upmost priority. Many IT organizations are currently dealing with an increase in security incidents as their users are falling victim to the increased phishing and malware threats. So, now we have an already strained IT department who is left holding the bag to deal with the increased infrastructure, user support, AND security needs? How do we do this? There must be a more effective way.

Hiring internally to fill these dynamic gaps is impractical and expensive. It is also difficult to maintain a balance between the skills and resources needed to deliver these services in house. On the other hand, businesses need to ensure that they have all the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to provide adequate and safe infrastructure for their operations to continue.

The businesses that will come out ahead and be in a position to grow and thrive post COVID-19, are those who are partnering with an MSP to offload infrastructure, user support and security operations and management. This frees up their internal IT team and IT leadership to keep an eye on their business’ visions and values, aligning technical capabilities to achieve business goals.

Businesses look to MSPs to solve capacity and skill set challenges, and to supplement parts of their IT operations to support today’s unique needs. This allows their IT team the opportunity to elevate their contribution and impact by focusing on projects that enable their business to thrive. MSPs also provide the foundation that allows any sized business to capture and support the full power of technology, ensure business continuity, help to strengthen alignment with the business, and create an exceptional end user experience.

Is VoIP what your business needs?

April 3rd, 2020 Posted by Best Practices, Cloud, Communication, Hosted Services, Managed Service Provider, Phone, Services, VoIP 0 thoughts on “Is VoIP what your business needs?”

VoIP is a hot topic among small business owners who have struggled with difficult, cumbersome landline systems. Which is probably why nearly 40% of small businesses have switched from traditional landlines to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone systems. In this blog post we’ll cover the advantages of VoIP so you can decide if it’s the missing link in your business technology toolkit.

VoIP empowers businesses.

Not so long ago, you could count on paying a small fortune for phone features like conferencing and an automated attendant. Now you can get those features plus newer ones, like instant messaging, mobility, and file sharing, at a fraction of the costs associated with landline phone systems. VoIP also brings a remarkable level of flexibility. One receptionist can handle incoming calls for offices located all over the country (without any inconvenience to your customers). Employees can route their office phones to any outside phone, which makes work travel and remote working smoother and more convenient for everyone.

Conduct business from anywhere in the world.

VoIP lets you be anywhere, anytime for the same cost. You and your staff can make or take calls at home, from coffee shops, at trade shows or in airport lounges – anywhere with an Internet connection or wireless signal. Your laptop or cell phone can function just like your desk phone, and your clients will never know the difference.

Save time and streamline office processes.

Have you ever received a voicemail that wasn’t meant for you and had to go through the whole process of getting it to where it belongs? What if you could just forward an email with the voicemail inside to the right person, straight from your inbox to theirs? This is just one of the many ways that VoIP can help streamline your office processes, saving your staff time and your business money.

And that’s not all. Hosted VoIP applications have built-in mobility and collaboration tools to enhance productivity and communication, such as instant messaging, personal phone books, and the ability to forward your phone calls to any outside phone automatically.

VoIP scales and grows with your business.

If you’re like many business owners, you’re likely making plans to grow your business. If you depend on cell service or traditional landlines, it could cause some major operational issues as your business grows and your needs change.  Luckily, there’s a phone system that can keep pace with your business expansion, without costing you a small fortune. A Hosted VoIP phone system supports the periodic growth that many businesses face without a large up-front investment. There’s no huge capital expense for new phone hardware and no worries about moving servers from the old office to the new. Simply extend Hosted VoIP service to your employees as you hire them. You can add or remove users as you need to; which is great for seasonal businesses (like accountants) too.

Even if your business is small in size today, you face many of the same challenges that larger enterprise businesses face, just without the extra resources. Hosted VoIP helps to level the playing field in your favor. With Hosted VoIP, you can establish a big-business presence anywhere in the world and work more efficiently to make the most of the resources you have while also laying the technical foundation to grow and transform your business when you’re ready.

3 Advantages of Hosted Email for SMBs

March 17th, 2020 Posted by Best Practices, Cloud, Communication, Hosted Services, Managed Service Provider, Services 0 thoughts on “3 Advantages of Hosted Email for SMBs”

Email has become business-critical for most SMBs. Without it, operations can grind to a halt, employees can sit idle, and sales/support can be negatively impacted. You want your email to have minimal down time, suit your business needs and goals, and support your business growth. But managing and maintaining your own email server can be challenging at best and disastrous at worst. So, how do you get the functionality you need without the headache? Hosted email. In this blog post we’ll discuss 3 advantages of hosted email for your SMB.

 

What is Hosted Email?

Email hosting as a service is a great way for businesses to save money, tailor your email to your needs, and save time on maintenance. Your email server is hosted off-site in a secure data center and is managed and maintained by our certified engineers. One of the best parts of a hosted email solution is that it’s crafted to your business’s specific needs, rather than it being a “one-size-fits-all” solution. This means that you’ll have to spend less time on work-arounds and general frustration, because it has been customized for you.

 

3 Benefits of Hosted Email

There are significant advantages to outsourcing your email to an MSP. Here are three of the biggest benefits of hosted email:

Less time spent on maintenance and management: You can focus your time and resources on aspects of your business that only you or your staff can do. Since the responsibility of managing and maintaining the email server is handled by an external party, you’re free to work on your business instead of your email servers.

Flexibility and scalability: Whether you’re planning to grow in the future or dealing with growing pains now, it will save you time and money to ensure that your email solutions can grow with your business. Hosted email is scalable to suit the specific needs of your business; adding or removing users and features as you need them is convenient and cost effective.

Security and redundancy: Your company email is a vital part of your business, which is why hackers try to take advantage of it so often through spam campaigns and phishing emails. These tactics are alarmingly effective when you don’t take steps to actively mitigate them. Having your email hosted in a secure data center reduces the likelihood of hacking attacks, and we can add a spam blocking solution to help avoid those threats as well.

Think Network Technologies can help your business take advantage of all the benefits hosted email has to offer. To learn more about hosted email solutions, contact us today.

River of Technology

August 20th, 2019 Posted by Best Practices, collaboration, Communication, Community, Staff 0 thoughts on “River of Technology”

The common sense survival guide that will keep your business afloat.

Here at Think we play as hard as we work, and for some of us that means time on the river. We couldn’t help but notice that there are some important parallels to being successful in the water and successful in business technology. Here are 5 tips to help you and your business successfully navigate the river of tech.

Plan ahead – Do you have a destination in mind? An idea of how you want to get there? These questions apply equally to river travel and the technology required to support your business. Tackling whitewater rapids without scouting first could be a dangerous endeavor. In a constantly shifting environment filled with opportunities and challenges, picking a good line and sticking with it will help control costs and allow you to use technology as a business tool rather than just a necessary expense.

Be prepared – The next step is having the right gear and knowing how to use it. All the knowledge in the world won’t make a wooden pallet a raft, and the most sophisticated water craft won’t make up for a lack of skill. The same goes for technology.

Go with the flow – Both rivers and technology are always changing, moving, and evolving. There’s no denying or changing that fact, so your best bet is to go with it. Use the current to get you where you want to go, because fighting against it will deplete your resources and set you back.

If you get stuck – Sometimes you’ll get sucked into an eddy or stuck on a rock in the middle of a moving river. Something similar happens in business technology when you’re bogged down with aged equipment, slow moving processes, or even one belief system about how IT functions in your business. The best thing to do at a time like this is assess your situation and where you’re at, decide where you want to go, and put in the effort to move yourself back into the flow.

Bring a guide – If all of this sounds like a lot, you’re not alone. These are specialized skill sets and know how that come with a lot of time, study, and practice. A healthy dose of passion for the work helps too. It’s not for everyone. Luckily there are guides who are happy to share their knowledge and skills to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable experience.

When it comes to your technology needs, a managed service provider can help you from beginning to end. They strategically plan out the types of technology, processes, and policies. They will help you get your business where you want it to go. They ensure that you have all the appropriate gear and that your staff is able to use it. They assist you in the inevitable change that comes with evolving technology in your business. They help you when you get stuck or run into a challenge.

If you’re looking for a guide to help you navigate the river of business technology, our engineers would be happy to talk with you.

Company Culture: the secret to success

August 13th, 2019 Posted by Best Practices, collaboration, Communication, Community, Staff 0 thoughts on “Company Culture: the secret to success”

Some parts of a business require a lot of work, time, and focus to create and maintain. Others will happen whether you work at them or not. The biggest (and maybe most important) example of this is company culture. Think about it. We’re social creatures, and it is natural for us to function as a cooperative group. It’s something you see happen even in temporary groups, like people waiting to get on a bus or standing in line at the store. There’s an unspoken give and take, an acceptance (and sometimes disregard) for the norms of the situation. No one is discussing it, planning it, or even consciously directing it. But it happens.

The same thing happens in a business. With a group of people brought together to support a common cause for 40 or more hours a week, how could it not?

The question isn’t “Do we have a company culture?”, because the answer to that is always “Yes.” The question is “Do we have a company culture that supports our employees, our clients, and our business goals?” The answer to that question will determine everything from employee productivity to turnover rate. In an industry with a notoriously high turnover rate, like IT, company culture can make all the difference in your business’s ability to thrive.

 

Starting at the Top

Actions speak louder than words.

We’ve all heard it a hundred times, but we rarely take the next step to understanding the implications of that simple truth.

Many businesses have instituted wellness programs to help support and encourage their employees in making healthier life choices. To the tune of $50 billion a year. This sounds like a lot of action in the right direction, so why isn’t it working? A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that these wellness programs haven’t increased workers’ health much at all. Or improved their experience at work.

This is because a policy or program can’t actually change company culture. Until it’s modeled by the leadership, it’s just empty words.

 

Setting the Example

Take a moment to think about what you’re modeling for your employees and coworkers. Are you answering emails late at night or well before work in the mornings? Do you skip lunches, rush from one meeting to the next, and cancel plans with your family on a regular basis? Are you showing up to work when you’re sick, injured, or exhausted?

The story we’re told is that you have to work hard to succeed, and sometimes that means sacrifice and struggle. This can certainly be true, and there’s nothing wrong with hard work and sacrifice. But is what you’re gaining worth what you’re giving up?

You have to remember that as the boss you set the tone. Your employees will follow your example, and you have to decide if this culture is sustainable, productive, and reflective of the business you want to create.

 

What You Value

One way to look at this is that it all comes down to what you value.

Do you want your employees at their desks for 8 hours a day, pushing regardless of what their actual level of productivity is?

Or do you want your employees working at their best, producing high quality work, regardless of whether that happens in 1 hour blocks or means they take a day off when they’re sick, have a family event, or just need to manage their stress level?

You have the opportunity to create a business that is both supportive and successful. Are you ready to do it?

Successful IT Transitions Need These 5 Components

July 12th, 2019 Posted by Best Practices, Cloud, Communication, Data, Security, Staff 0 thoughts on “Successful IT Transitions Need These 5 Components”

Change is easy to get excited about and easy to get started, but it’s tough to follow through and keep the momentum going. Especially when it feels like there’s no end in sight, as can happen with IT projects if you’re not careful. But it doesn’t have to be an endless slog. If you build these 5 components into your IT transition, the entire process will be much smoother and more successful from beginning to end.

1. A tracking system – a simple list of major goals and initiatives, refer to it often (especially if you’re thinking about adding anything), and check off progress as you go. This helps to keep the direction clear, make the steps and goals feel attainable, and makes progress easy to see. All of these will make it easier for your staff to maintain motivation and momentum.

2. Clear communication – When people don’t understand what they’re doing or why, they lose focus, motivation, and enthusiasm. So, make all communications regarding the transition as transparent and simple as possible. Lose the tech jargon and talk about the benefits, challenges, and goals in a way that everyone can understand.

3. Available support personnel – It’s likely that there will be a handful of people in your organization who are always in demand during any IT transition. They’re the ones who always seem to know what’s going on and how to fix it. It’s essential that these people be free to work on higher level issues, while anything else is delegated to employees with less expertise and/or less demand on their skills and time. This will help the transition move more quickly and smoothly while encouraging less experienced staff to learn and take on new responsibility.

4. Clear transitions and expectations – make sure that your employees know when and how to transition from doing things the “old way” to adopting your new solutions and processes. Whether this is an entirely new role or just a new approach, you can cut down on confusion, frustration, and unnecessary delays by ensuring that everyone knows what to do and when to do it.

5. Data-based targets – It’s important to both morale and progress that you and your team can identify what “done” is for any given stage or goal in the transition. This gives you a framework to discuss their progress and direction, and it gives them a definite path to follow.

7 Tips for Training Tech-Savvy Employees

June 6th, 2019 Posted by Best Practices, collaboration, Communication, Staff 0 thoughts on “7 Tips for Training Tech-Savvy Employees”

Updating your technology on a regular basis is an important part of keeping your employees productive and efficient as well as protecting your company from cyber security threats. But keeping employees up to date on how to use all this new tech can be a challenge. Here are 7 tips to help you train more tech savvy employees and keep your business moving forward.

  • Know why –Most people resist change. It’s just human nature. But if you can explain WHY it’s worth their time and effort to learn and use this new tech, you’ll find your employees will be a lot more cooperative. And maybe even excited.
  • Recruit inside– Some employees will naturally be more apt and more interested in the new tech. Recruit them to help you train the others. This will help bridge the knowledge gap as well as getting everyone involved on the project together.
  • Get hands-on –As often as possible, have your employees learn by doing. The more engaged they are, the more likely they are to retain the information.
  • Documentation –Ever wish there was a manual for that? So do your employees. Give them written instructions (preferably with screenshots) whenever possible. This will help them learn more quickly and provide a handy reference guide for later.
  • Keep it small –Breaking your employees into smaller groups for tech training gives them more opportunities to ask questions and engage with the instructor, helping them learn more quickly.
  • Everyone is different –Some employees will pick up the new tech and run with it right away, but others will require more time and effort to get them going. Be prepared for differing rates of progress and be patient.
  • Get their thoughts –Your employees can provide you will valuable feedback on the learning process and how the new tech is impacting the company, if you ask and are open to listening. Do this during the transition and afterwards to help keep tabs on the bigger picture.

7 Skills of a Successful Digital Leader

May 2nd, 2019 Posted by Best Practices, collaboration, Communication, Staff 0 thoughts on “7 Skills of a Successful Digital Leader”

As the role of IT evolves and becomes more integrated with the very foundations of our businesses, it’s vital for you to evolve with it. It’s no longer enough to know the ins and outs of business tech, now you need to have the leadership skills and business savvy necessary to make all that tech knowledge an integral asset at every level, from C-suite executives to end users.

 

Talk less, communicate more

It’s important to ensure that IT solutions, as well as time and money spent, are all in the best interests of the company. So, it’s important to listen to what people are saying, sift through to what’s actually needed, prioritize what will benefit the company most, and then communicate the value of the proposition as well as how it will be accomplished. This requires an open mind, good listening skills, and abstract reasoning.

 

Focus on simplicity, efficiency, and agility

With so many IT solutions available for each need, it’s important to remember that more isn’t more, but neither is less. What you want is the right fit for your business, and that will change as your business grows and evolves. This requires an IT leader with a focus on keeping your processes simple, a willingness to cut anything that isn’t efficient, and an eye to keeping the business agile enough to shift and change when and how it needs to in order to stay competitive.

 

Hire adaptability

People are inherently resistant to change, so it’s important that you actively seek people who are interested in challenge and growth. A growth mindset means they won’t run from change, they’ll lean into it. And even better, they’ll get curious and start asking questions that may open up new avenues of thinking or opportunities that will help your business move forward.

 

Get your hands dirty

It’s unrealistic to tell a group of people to do something without being willing to do it yourself, and adopting new mindsets and approaches to technology is no different. Get involved with your teams, help them work through the problems and challenges, and let them see you working to learn with them. It will encourage a healthier dynamic and improve adoption of new technology and processes.

 

Change the way you view mistakes

Teams who are afraid to fail are also afraid to try, and you can’t make progress until you’re open to both. You can help your team by establishing a culture that treats mistakes as an opportunity to learn and do better.

 

Value different perspectives and relationships

Bridging the gap between IT and business can seem overwhelming. It gets a lot easier when you have a pool of contacts to draw from that spans both sides. These different perspectives will help keep you from leaning too far to one side, and they will help you see your challenges and opportunities in a whole new light.

 

Focus forward and keep adapting

Consistent change is the new normal, and the pace increases every year. Now is the time to embrace this and learn how to use it to your advantage. Rather than seeking out a “perfect” structure or solution, allow your ideas and your approach to be flexible enough to take advantage of “great for now”. And then be prepared to change again when your business outgrows that solution or a better one becomes available.

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