Category Archives: SME

Real SMB IT: Automate

In the small to medium enterprise, everybody is stretched thin.

Everybody wears many hats,and nobody has enough time.

That includes your IT team. Fix that issue, support that problem, assist someone else with another.

However, in many cases, your IT team has a way to begin getting out of that assistance rut: automation

One very large key to reducing your IT costs and staying sane is to ensure that you consolidate as much as possible and even more importantly to automate as much as possible.

I have seen technical support issues that routinely took excessive amounts of time to resolve, when the issue was a configuration or connectivity issue that can be automated through various tools or methods.

When something is done repeatedly and routinely, do your best to find a way to have it automated.

When Software Licensing Forces Your Decisions

I’ve got a story here that leaves me a little bit frustrated.

First? A little background: We are currently in the process of replacing an ageing accounting system with a newer, more modern system. (Our current system is older than my son, and he is 17)

Like most enterprise tools, this new system has a multitude, and variety, of different user licensing options. Certain levels of license give full access to the tool, other levels of license allow a device to access it, and other levels of license just allow fringe access to particular pieces.

And as you may have guessed, the more access a particular individual requires to the tool, the more expensive that license is. And that is where my frustration comes in.

For every one of our processes and requirements, we have to determine whether the task can be done as economically as possible regarding those licenses. For example, if we allow a road warrior to input his expense claim; does that mean he needs the full-boat license that costs as much as a small car? Because if it does, the hell with it, we will have to change our processes and have that expense claim submitted some other way.

This tool is an accounting package- and as such? Yes, we pay the full boat license price for the accounting team and the people need to do the deep dive into the software. But having to review each and everything we are trying to do with an eye to seeing if it escalates the price of the license required is very frustrating.

As a small to medium business, it severely changes the language of the business case to add hundreds of thousands of dollars in license costs, simply to enable somebody to submit an expense claim or other minor piece of work.

The small to medium business take away

Enterprise class software can be expensive. And having to fight through these licensing battles makes it just more so.

Have you experienced this? Let me know!

 

BYOD, Consumer IT, Asia is Winning

We can call it bring your own device, (BYOD) or the  consumerization of IT, (CoIT) and pundits can debate the semantic differences between the two.

The days of your employer providing you with its company supplied Blackberry, really, really, seem to be over. The iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy S, all of these devices are accessing our networks, are accessing e-mail, and in some cases there they are even replacing computers. And often, you won’t own them – your employees will.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to devices accessing your network, at the most  basic level, there are two primary risks involved. One risk is simply a technical risk. Technical risk is the technical issues which include security of the device and the data that may be on it.

Here is the second risk, let’s call this risk management risk. Management risk is not the security of the device, it is not the ability to remotely wipe the device if an employee leaves, it is not ensuring that corporate policies are maintained.

Management risks can be defined as a risk that can affect the company’s business, brand, or continuing operations.

For example, your star sales representative is using his or her personally owned iPhone for business. Okay, let’s assume the worst, that he or she has left your employ for a competitor. And as for your your largest client?

Well, they probably have his or her cellular number on speed dial, so who is your client going to reach when they call that cellular number? Hint it won’t be you!

And to me, this management risk is the far more serious risk than the technical risk.

And this is where Asia is winning!

Let me back up a moment, most of us have seen them, the “brains” or intelligence of these devices is located on the tiny little subscriber identity module, or ‘SIM’ card that we slide into the phone or tablet.

To me it seems obvious: Since this little card, which is basically just a microcomputer chip, is the key to the phone- why would it not be standard that a phone could be purchased that had two of these little SIM slots available? In other words,  I could bring my personal phone to work as a new employee, and then be handed a corporate SIM card that contains the corporate phone number. And when I leave? The employer takes back the corporate owned SIM card.

Problem solved! One, single phone. But two separate numbers, two separate security policies and arrangements.

And here’s the rub, I was talking with a senior executive with an Asian background who let me know that in many places in Asia, having two SIM cards in a phone is a common occurrence. It is already available. It is already there!

Why can’t we get that capability here?

As I mentioned, the technical risks involving data obtained or manipulated through phones and tablets is becoming more and more reduced, this ability to have two SIM cards in one phone would greatly reduce that management risk as well.

So here is a call to the Chief Information Officers at our large corporations, push our North American vendors to match what is already happening in Asia

ITIL – Without the ‘Word’

I’ve written about ITIL quite a bit on this blog, and in fact I am using ITI L in an IT service management form in this new role of mine, but here’s a little secret; I don’t think I’ve used the word more than a dozen times.

OK, OK, ITIL  is an anagram, for IT Infrastructure Library, not a word. (yes, I know!)

Here’s the thing, our organization already has a strong engineering and project management framework in various processes and disciplines. So let me ask you a question? Does it make sense for me to try to teach a new language, a new discipline or a new protocol, or just continue to use the words and language that we are already using?

Language, and words are powerful devices. And for us the language and the words already exist.

As a business we have a strong understanding of lessons learned, a strong understanding of risk reduction and mitigation, and we already have ISO 9000 certified processes.

Perhaps as we make our first steps away from the little baby steps that we are currently doing I may change my mind about the terminology, the words, the semantics, but for now?

ITIL is predicated on learning problems from incidents that occur, so what is the difference if I ask what lesson did we learn from that incident?

For me?

I’ll stick with the words, the terms, and the language that we, as a business, already know.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Order Taker or Solution Maker

A good read by by Eric Brown titled; Are you building an “order taker” or “solution maker” environment?. Now, Eric writes for IT Professionals, however for any executive or general manager in the small to medium business space, I urge you to read it as well. (And I would like to add one more thing to Mr. Brown’s post!)

The IT teams in most SME’s are Order Takers. They may not know it, and they may not really think about it, but orders come from executives or committees that provide marching orders for some new server or tool. IT just chips in and gets it done. (usually quite well too)

We can consider a spectrum, with Order Taker one one side – and primarily being in a reactive posture, then moving to the Solution Maker on the other side of the spectrum which we can be consider as being in a proactive posture. But allow me to be quite blunt, moving an IT team from Order Taker to Solution Maker is not a linear event.

Moving to the Solution Maker side of the spectrum requires organizational maturity levels that are orders of magnitude higher, perhaps even logarithmically higher than the organizational maturity required at the Order Taker side of the spectrum.

And I would argue that the first step for moving across that spectrum is for IT to have a true plan, and then be able to provide feedback and options when these Order Taker initiatives arise. Without a formal plan, you never will get beyond the Order Taker side of the spectrum.

Let me ask you a few questions, the last time you decided to purchase a large ‘IT system’ such as Service Management, Financial Management, that good ‘ole boy ‘ERP’ system, or any larger technology tool, did you….

1) Have someone draft a requirements plan?

2) Have all business units add their ‘must have’ bits and pieces that they are adamant they need?

3) Then nod sagely when a vendor describes the mysteries of a ‘gap analysis’ and listen to them solemnly state that they certainly can do all of that for you?

Oh yes, one last little question; Did your IT Team ever give you a bit of feedback (positive or negative), push back, or any other method of raising caution signs?

Here is an example that you, dear Sir or Madam have probably done yourself……

You decided to renovate one of the rooms of your home, came up with an idea or two, added in a rough budget limit…..

Ahhhh! then the real shopping begins, and upgrade after upgrade leaves that initial budget and plan  blowing in the wind….

Yes! that project that started as ‘reface the cabinetry and replace the sink’ ended up with granite counter tops, tile flooring, new cabinetry and the latest high end appliances…..

Providing feedback and even some argument that you are deviating from plan may not be critical with kitchen appliances, but it can be costly in IT.

The first improvement in your IT level of organizational maturity?

Is to get your IT team clearly articulating that those business unit ‘wish lists’ are going to cost money – lots of money, specifically if they are wandering off of your plan. As one example, when one Vice President was advised that a tiny part of one wishlist alone was six figure dollar amounts to implement:  “No damned way I’m spending that …” was the response.

Moving across the spectrum from order taker to solution maker is hard work, but to start, you need a plan, and you need your IT Teams to able to demonstrate when, and even argue, if you are beginning to deviate from that plan.

Real SMB IT: Computer Hardware Fails, Plan For It

We all know that after a certain number of years and miles that our cars will begin to break down more often. Many of us know someone who is a master do-it-yourself person that can choose to keep making repairs until that clunker becomes an antique classic. But for most of us, when the cost of repair and the risk of breakdown reach that tipping point, well – we look at replacing the car.

When it comes to your computer hardware, I don’t recommend that do-it-yourself idea, classic computer hardware belongs only in museums.

One benefit we have with cars, there are statistical references that we can base our decisions on, for example, we know the higher the mileage the more likely things are to break. Unfortunately we can’t measure our computer use in miles. Vendor marketing teams may try and convince us that the server your financial tool runs on will last forever. But it definitely won’t.

And that server holding your financial records and data is running 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.

We can debate what service life a server is. A quick search on Google shows dozens of conflicting arguments.

 The SMB Takeaway

In the last couple of weeks, three separate small businesses have told me about their computer server failing.

Gone.

Dead as the proverbial doornail

It will happen to you – it is not a question of ‘if’. It is a question of ‘when’.

Plan for it.

Photo Credit Stephen A. Wolfe via flickr

Marketing, Buyers, And Technology

No one truly listens anymore.

This is neither earth shaking new information, nor is it ‘news’. Since the introduction of television we have been getting information in sound bites and 60 second voice overs.

Our current Internet connected world? A few minutes on a search engine provides as much information as hours in a library.

For our businesses this means that we need to ensure that we can communicate our value in the same way that our customers will be receiving it: quickly, concisely, and on demand.

I want to point you to this excellent piece by Ardath Albee on the Marketing Interactions blog titled; Expectations and Experience are the New Competition

You know this, but it bears repeating: according to Selling Power, “Today, up to 70% of a customer’s buying decision is now made based on information he or she finds online well before a salesperson has a chance to get involved.”

I urge you to read that article as it provides a handful of statistics of what we as businesses are not providing to our prospective customers.

While overcoming our modern day attention deficit through communications will land hardest on our marketing teams, IT leaders must keep one thing in mind; marketing needs technology for these communications. Marketing needs more than one technology for these communications. And Marketing needs to monitor and measure the effects of communications.

The days of a prospect spending 30 minutes or more listening to your stump speech are long gone, so delivering information through multiple channels in amounts that take into effect our 60 second or so attention spans is critical.

Where is IT in this?

If IT Leadership cannot assist in providing the technologies and frameworks to assist in this, marketing will be forced to do it alone, without you.

Some already argue that marketing should be doing this on their own, bypassing business technology teams for their own technology tools.

I don’t agree with that sentiment as your Business Technology teams should (I emphasize that word ‘should’) already be familiar with the frameworks and tools that can assist in removing friction from internal processes, plus the capture and dissemination of data.

The SMB Takeaway

I guess the most obvious one, if as a general manager you aren’t effectively and efficiently improving your marketing, you have a problem. Secondly, Business Technology teams need to roll up their sleeves and demonstrate the value of effective and efficient processes.

I have now taken up more the 60 seconds of your time, so until next time…..

Photo Credit Earls37a via flickr

Real SMB IT: On ‘Technical Debt’

What is Technical Debt?

When you take out a loan, you understand that the money you receive today comes with a liability of repayment, and of course, that repayment comes with interest.

If you are an executive or manager in the small to medium business space, you should understand that a similar type of debt comes along with your IT spending too.

The term Technical Debt was coined several years ago, primarily as a way of demonstrating risks in the application development life cycle. (in other words when writing or modifying software programs- and before you state that you don’t write software programs, that contractor modifying your ERP or sales program? Yes, you got it…)

I believe technical debt goes beyond developers though. As soon as you have signed the check for some new piece of software or business tool, you are already incurring some technical debt. This is because you are now going to be living with that decision for a while.

As an analogy, imagine that you have recently purchased a 2012 model year car, then imagine that you visited your local auto show and you see that the upcoming 2013 model of the same car has twice the features, better fuel economy, and even a little bit less expensive.

As nice as that 2013 model may look, if you are like most of us, until you have fully paid the lease or loan payments in full, that fancier model is far out of reach.

That type of technical debt is unavoidable. Yes, you can argue that if you don’t buy anything, that debt does not exist. That is a truth, however you are also not obtaining any possible efficiency or value either.

Then, there is the interest payments due..

This next level of technical debt is both insidious and expensive. (and the reason the term was coined)

This technical debt results from poor standards, poor planning, poor or non-existing documentation as well as lax or non-existent controls.

I am not going to explain this one in detail though! Because Andrea Dallera has already done that perfectly in this post titled; On technical debt (now with chickens!)

Photo Credit Alan Levine via flickr

SME Software Teams: User Experience

Just about a year ago, I presented a couple of arguments that technology leaders need to change their point of view on technology in this post titled; Consumer Tech: A Next Generation Point of View

Here is an interview with CIO Dick Escue at RehabCare Group, a physical therapy provider with more than 9,000 employees

in 2006, he decided to make user experience — not privacy or security — the number one priority of the IT department

Oh, did I mention, from the hard dollar category, he also saw a 92 percent reduction in broken devices?

‘Nuff said……

Photo Credit Stephen Heywood via flickr

A Lesson From Microsoft

Sure, Microsoft Corporation is an 800 pound gorilla in the software business that many love to hate. But I want to travel back in time here and point out something that is often overlooked, and definitely worth considering in your business.

Some Background

I have written previously that I was late into the computing era. When I first turned to the field, Novell Netware was the king of the hill in network technologies for SME businesses. However, as I wrote in that same post, Netware had a weakness that I knew would eventually kill that dominance.

Being an IT Administrator at the time, I started to look carefully at what product I thought would be the next in line to take that networking crown away from Novell. Back in the early 1990′s, the choices were the ‘big company’ products such as Digital Equipment Corporations’ VAX minicomputers, and the various UNIX flavours including Sun Solaris.

In the small business space, there were two companies trying to make a name for themselves in our business technology networks – one was Microsoft, with the now familiar Windows, the second was IBM

IBM OS/2

IBM OS/2

with the OS/2 operating system. At that time, OS/2 version 2.1 was getting stronger, and IBM marketing was touting that version 3 would be even better.

There is a second thing you should know; in the SMB IT field, as an individual, traditionally you have been on your own when learning new skills. Companies generally are loath to provide new skills training, and help wanted advertisements were full of job postings wanting 3 years experience with a 1 year old new technology.

This meant that my research and learning would be costing me money from my own pocket.

So, both Microsoft Windows, and IBM OS/2 were pushing for market share in SME networks, I had to ask myself; Do I focus my skills development on just one of these products? If so, which one? Or perhaps I should cover all bets and take a deep dive into both of them?

As a pretty typical IT staffer, I purchased copies of both products, installed them and started the typical half play / half work of testing how they worked. The next step was to start looking for the more advanced learning materials. And that search changed things in a big way for me.

Dollars

IBM published in depth technical books about its products. These Red Books contained the needed in depth material on the deep inner workings of the operating system, but they were about a month of my wages – per book.

Microsoft also published the same in depth materials, available in what they called Resource Kits, and they were about a hundred dollars, and included a CD that contained digital versions of other Resource Kits. Buy one physical Resource Kit book, get 10 digital ones free. You can guess where I invested my dollars.

The Network Effect

The definition of Network Effect, is that the value of a product or service is dependent on the number of others using it. As the old example states, one fax machine was useless, the more there are, the more you could use them.

Microsoft did not stop this network effect with just my Resource Kit materials either. Technical professionals could subscribe to Technet, Software Developers could subscribe to the the Microsoft Developer Network, and businesses that worked with Microsoft products could subscribe to various marketing and sales channel materials. And the key thing?

Sample Binder of Learning Materials

Sample Binder of Microsoft Learning Materials (2000)

These subscriptions were low in price, and bought you so much material that you know Microsoft spent more on shipping to get that material to you, than you paid for the subscription price. There were absolute boxes of binders, hundreds of CD’s, case studies, sample software, and other learning materials.

If you worked with Microsoft products in any way, to build this network effect, they pretty much gave you more information on a monthly basis than you could hope to assimilate.

And by doing that, they built a huge ecosystem of tech professionals of all types familiar with, and recommending Microsoft technologies.

The SMB Takeaway

I spent my hard earned money learning more about the deep technical details of Microsoft products, IBM OS/2 went to the dustbin of computing history.

And the lesson?

Look at your product or service. Is there anywhere that an investment in this network effect could mean you become the product or service of choice?

And the nice thing ladies and gentlemen, in our digital Facebook, youtube era, you don’t need the cost of sending 12 boxes of materials annually to do to it.