July 23, 2015

You’re finally doing that much anticipated – and long-time coming – upgrade of your technology systems.  You’ve allocated enough capital to make required hardware and software purchases; you’ve carved out time for training of your users; you’ve prepared yourself and your staff for the possible disruption of service; and you’ve backed up all of your data.

Ready to deploy, right?  Nope.

Any technology upgrade/conversion is fraught with unknown hurdles.  It is a complicated process for any sized company, and without proper planning, things can go terribly wrong.  So, how do you prevent a catastrophe?  Here are three lessons to keep in mind when tackling these projects.

Scope creep is an unwanted distraction.
The scope and nature of your upgrade/conversion are the heart of this type of project.  In almost no instance does the old surgeon’s adage, “While we have the patient on the operating table,” work during these conversions.  Make all efforts to stick to the original scope of work.  No change in mid-project is simple.  Given the integrated nature of technology now, any change always has a ripple effect.  And considering each ripple is its own change, well, you get the picture.  Don’t fall into the scope creep trap.

The correct investment is critical.
The highest priced hardware, software, and service may not be the best solution for you.  Purchasing an excess of bells and whistles when what you really need is a straightforward solution can be a real waste of time and money (both being equally important).  But even worse is tackling a complex, multi-phased IT upgrade/conversion and always going with the cheapest solution.  To do anything in technology will require an investment (again, time and money).  If this is your first go around, then budgeting will be arduous (it’s never easy), but just know that paying for products and services on the cheap will end up costing you much more down the line.

The project needs a point person.
Every project needs an efficient, task-oriented manager.  This point person needs to have enough final say – “deciding power” – to keep the upgrade/conversion on schedule and within budget.  The project manager (PM) will maintain a centralized deployment strategy within the scope of the initial proposal.  Without that center of influence on these types of projects, things will go off the rails pretty quick.

#PokeTheBear

July 16, 2015

We’ve all been there.  You spend a week putting together the winning presentation for a new prospect.  Night before the big day you save the final version with plans to print copies the next day.  Morning arrives, you go to open the file, only to find Murphy has recently visited.  The file is corrupted.  Through no fault of your own your technology has conspired against you.  Your rising panic creates a fog as you think of how to fix this disaster.

Everything breaks, and the current design of most technologies almost ensures something will go wrong with an uncomfortable regularity.  Unless you have the capacity to change the current technology weak spots, you have to begrudgingly accept that it’s going to break, almost always at inconvenient times.

That’s why in today’s environment, there’s no excuse for not having 1-2 levels of data backup.  Whether you something like a local external hard drive, or that and cloud backup (or only cloud backup), you and your business need a fallback option for when your primary data access is not working (for whatever reason).  Stress over a corrupted file should be a thing of the past.

For most small businesses, data such as financials, client/customer information, inventory tracking, networking contacts, etc. are the most important elements of your business.  Without reliable access to and the ability to update and share this information, you may as well close up shop and wish it was the mid-20th Century again.

The most basic solution is an external hard drive.  You make a copy of all your data and store that copy onto the hard drive.  That process has been going on for decades.  Like all solutions, there are pros (lowest cost, physical ownership of device, portability) and cons (finite storage, no redundancy, simple encryption).

The best solution is a cloud (aka online) backup service.  Piece of software sits on your machine, it’s configured to encrypt all your data, send it across your Internet connection, and store the backup in its encrypted state.  The more advanced services will then make another copy of those data and ship it to their own backup facility.  So you actually have three copies of your data.  As you (and possibly your IT) should be the only one with the security key to open the encrypted files, you can feel confident your data is useless even if stolen.  Pros: strong encryption; unlimited storage capacity; anywhere/anytime availability.  Cons: ongoing cost; no physical ownership; saturated industry.

Whichever solution you decide, what’s most important is that your data are backed up and available to you when you need to restore a single file or a large data set.  You should no longer find stress in a corrupted file.  There are solutions to make that a simple click and restore process.

Speaking of solutions, check out ours: Syzygy 3 Data Vault

#PokeTheBear

July 09, 2015

Your business and personal digital worlds are growing daily, and that’s not going to change.  Cloud services, apps, websites, etc.; they’ve all become a consequential part of growing your business and conducting your personal affairs.  That means your connection to these myriad resources is more essential than ever before.

That “connection” you seek is the form of bandwidth.  Whether at home, the office, or on the road, you rely entirely on an Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) ability to push and pull your data 24/7.  The larger the amount of data you transmit to the world, the larger amount of bandwidth you’ll require.

For your office, your bandwidth options have grown to include: fiber, copper, cable, or wireless.  Whichever you choose, purchase as much bandwidth as your budget will allow.  Just as your PC, Mac, tablet can never have enough memory (aka RAM), you can never have enough bandwidth.  As George Carlin famously riffed, your “stuff” grows to fill your space, so you get more space.  Same goes for bandwidth; your data will grow to fill your bandwidth.

Now for a quick education on bandwidth.  Like all technologies, there’s marketing, and there’s reality.  When you see an ad for a 50/5 Internet connection, what the ISP is offering is 50Mbps (megabytes per second) download speed (for when you download/stream a movie or new song) and 5Mbps upload speed (for when you upload a pic to Instagram or Facebook).  But in reality, you’re not getting those speeds – you have the capacity for those speeds, if everything is perfect and you’re only sending one piece of info at a time.

To think about bandwidth, think of a one-lane road vs. a highway.  On a one-lane road, all cars may go 60 mph, but all the cars behind the first car are going to arrive later because they’re not first.  No matter the speed capabilities of any of the cars, they’re all limited by the lead car.

If you want all cars to arrive at the same time (a good thing when sending data over the Internet), and get them all going at max speed, then you’ll need to expand the number of lanes.  The more lanes, the more lead cars and the less following cars.  So to make things overly simplified, 50/5 may equate to 50 lanes for download and five (5) lanes for upload.

Now, there are a number of other considerations that go into purchasing bandwidth (service level agreements, response times to issues, ability to upgrade, and so on).  But when it comes to speed alone, the higher the better.

#PokeTheBear

July 02, 2015

Technology can be an enormous expense for companies looking to stay relevant in the digital world.  The latest and greatest products and/or services (Faster! Smoother! Brighter!), however, might not be the best solutions for your employees, the people who actually use the products and/or services everyday.

New technology may disrupt processes with which your staff has grown comfortable.  It may lead to insecurity and frustration, especially if employees view it as a threat to their jobs.  Worse yet, they may ignore the technology altogether and never put to use.

How can you mitigate employee resistance to new technology?  Here are a few easy suggestions:

Get them involved
Allow your employees access to the tech selection process.  Help them to understand why the change is necessary, and prepare them for how it will impact their work (and those of their fellow staff).  If staff can see the purchase of new technology develop from the outset, even contributing recommendations for what they would like to use on the job, they will likely become champions of the new technology.  Executives need not be the only group to decide which technology makes it onto peoples’ desks; it should be a mix of staff from all around the company.

Advance notice
No one likes surprises, especially when they affect what has been the norm.  The implementation of new technologies in your company needs to be a transparent and thought-out process.  If you anticipate a six-to-twelve month installation period, let your staff know.  Fair warning of the changes to come will allow all employees to prepare and grow to accept the technology before it arrives.  A key to a smooth transition from old to new technology is to get employees on board early.

Training, training, training
New technology will inevitably alter the existing processes followed by your staff.  Old habits die hard if not approached in a logical fashion.  Training sessions and guided tutorials, crafted to address the needs of each particular group of users, will mitigate employee resistance to new systems.  If done right, the training will ultimately demonstrate the benefits of the new systems/services/products, while providing employees a get-to-know window before the systems/services/products go live.  Finally, group training sessions tend to allow for an open discussion among employees and trainers, so potential obstructions to acceptance can be addresses right up front.

Employees helping employees
Not all of your employees will “get it” right away.  Learning and adapting to new technologies takes time and patience.  The biggest champions of a new technology, and the best asset to other users, will be employees themselves.  Make sure those employees who are most comfortable adapting the new systems are willing to stand up as mentors/trainers for fellow employees.  Users are typically more open to help from someone in a similar position than they are to help from managers.

Never understood why a company would invest so heavily in a product/system/service and then just throw the new technology out there and wish users the best of luck.  If you want technology to benefit your company, then focus on your employees, not the technology.

#PokeTheBear