IT Staff

Recession Obsession

If you’ve been alive 10 years, you’ve been through a recession – the Great Recession actually.  If you’ve been alive 20 years, you’ve been through two recessions.  30 years on the planet will give you…you guessed it, three recessions.  Although recessions do seem to be cyclical, they don’t always happen every 10 years. Over the last 50 years, there have been 7 recessions.

Gas Lines and Baby Food Jars

RecessionThe ramifications of a recession also change over time. Being 53 years old, I recall my grandparents saving every coffee can, baby food jar, and plastic container to repurpose and use for storing things throughout the house.  As products of the Great Depression, they were raised to literally save everything.  I can also distinctly recall having to wait in long lines for gas during the recession in the 1970’s.  My father and I would park the car in line at the gas station and go to the nearby strip mall to kill time for two hours while we waited for the line to move.

Although not a recession, I recall Black Monday in 1987 when the stock market dropped over 22%.  I was working at a financial planning firm at the time and that was not a good day, and not just because it was Monday.

Dot Bomb Bubble Burst

In the early 2000’s, the dot com bubble burst, and turned into the dot “bomb”.  It seemed like anyone with a web-based idea was given millions of dollars in funding without having to show any DownGraphprofits (a scenario which still occurs today).  eToys.com, Webvan.com, Pets.com, and many more all wiped out almost overnight.

Most recently, we can all recall, if not relate, to the Great Recession that occurred in 2007-2009 when the housing bubble burst due to the subprime mortgage crisis.  The term “government bailout” became a major thorn, and the nemesis for many household brands.  Many are still recovering from this economic meltdown. However, the prosperity over the past 10 years has dulled some of the sting.

But, some are now warning us that the great run we have enjoyed may be slowing down, and we’re potentially headed for a recession.  Search Google for “Recession 2019” and you’ll find blue-chip names discussing the very likely possibility that a recession is looming.

Before it's too late!

CrisisI have owned a technology company, Fluid IT Services, for the past 17 years, and we felt the impact of the 2007 recession – but in an interesting way.  We provide IT solutions and support for small to mid-sized businesses, and the cost of our services is typically less than the cost of one full-time employee. Although we lost the clients who unfortunately went out of business, we gained new clients who needed to cut costs and couldn’t afford full-time IT staff.

We certainly had to cut costs ourselves and manage everything more tightly, but we were okay because our risks were spread sufficiently, and we provide a service that is “recession friendly”.  We continued to grow as the economy improved, but always with a keen eye on our market segment and the economy as a whole.

As the economic signs, signals, metrics, statistics, etc. started showing a downturn, we’ve used it as an opportunity to get our business in order.  It’s much easier to evaluate all your people, processes and technology-related costs, and make sure that your business is operating as efficiently as possible, before things go south.

Every company has and uses technology (IT) constantly. Most companies today wouldn’t be able to function without IT.  But, when times are good, costs related to IT (and other business functions) may not be closely monitored because sales and revenue can cure many ills.  However, it’s best to ensure your IT house is in order before the times get tough and budgets get tight.

Start by asking questions

An analysis of your current IT spend at a detailed level, may be as exciting as watching paint dry, but it’s crucial when dollars tighten. IT cost analysis can also be difficult. Even knowing which items to include when analyzing your IT spend can be confusing. I’ve found that it’s easiest to start by asking questions…

  1. What are my costs for internet, phones, software subscriptions, IT support, computers, etc.?
  2. What hardware needs to be replaced soon? How much will it cost to replace?
  3. What costs can be reduced or eliminated?
  4. What costs are a bare minimum to keep the lights on?
  5. When was the last time I evaluated all my contracts related to technology and what are the terms? Being locked into an expensive 5-year contract at the beginning of a downturn is no fun.

Good news...

We can help! At Fluid, we help companies analyze their IT costs almost daily. So, we already know where most of the IT costs are found, where the skeletons are buried, what is reasonable, and what is outrageous.  As a provider of outsourced IT services for small to medium businesses, we have to know these costs because we’re responsible for managing them in order to be a good steward with our clients’ hard-earned money spent on IT.

We also take it one step further by using a more proactive and strategic approach to IT. We will hope for the best, but also help you plan for the worst by discussing current and future business needs, goals and “what if” scenarios. Once we have this information, we can provide guidance on ways to cut IT costs and suggest solutions that will generate revenue, and specifically align with each clients’ business plan.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know and bring in experts to help you understand your costs.  It will reap rewards now and help you sleep better when economic conditions do change.  Feel free to call Fluid IT, we love this stuff!  Our main objective is to help people with their businesses and see IT in action!

How 20 Minutes Can Save Your Business: 4 of 4

In my previous post, I promised 4 topics that if considered may make you re-think outsourcing IT.  We started with the specialized knowledge required to keep IT running smoothly for a business today.  No one (or two) person will have it all.  If you missed it, check it out here.  Next we covered the strategic role IT should play in your organization.  Here's #2.  In my third post, I covered reducing risk.  Sometimes we don't consider how much key-person risk we have in our businesses.  This post will help you consider that. Today, I'm going to focus on cost.

Reason #4 - Cost is King: Why Managed Services are MORE Affordable

For small businesses, costs are a critical measurement. The cost to maintain an internal employee’s technical acumen can be monumental. Salary, workers compensation, benefits, and payroll taxes are not cheap. Small companies do not have access to healthcare discounts that large enterprises can harness. Adding regular and expensive training for an IT staffer is a significant increase to those costs. Every course sponsored by your company makes an employee more valuable on the open market. Every course neglected creates risk for your business.

If you are making investments in hardware to maintain an on-premise environment, what happens in the event of an economic downturn? There is no better example than that of the ever-changing Oil and Gas industry. I have seen large infrastructure investments made during a growth period, followed immediately by a downturn. Many found themselves paying for hardware they can no longer utilize effectively.

All things considered, outsourcing IT is less expensive than the cost to maintain a full-time employee. If your industry is facing a downturn, a managed services agreement allows you to scale down. When you experience growth you can easily scale up. You gain access to a team of experts instead of relying on the expertise of one person or a small team. A recent Gartner study cited that 80% of small business would “realize significant savings from outsourcing e-mail management alone.” Imagine the savings in outsourcing other technology components.

Bottom line: If you own or operate a small business you should be evaluating IT outsourcing. A 20 minute conversation might just change your life.

 

How 20 Minutes Can Save Your Business: 3 of 4

In my previous post, I promised 4 topics that if considered may make you re-think outsourcing IT.  We started with the specialized knowledge required to keep IT running smoothly for a business today.  No one (or two) person will have it all.  If you missed it, check it out here.  Next we covered the strategic role IT should play in your organization.  Here's #2. Today, I'm going to focus on reducing risk.

Reason #3 - Taking the Stress out of Taking Vacation (Reducing risk)

What would happen if the only employee familiar with your IT environment resigns? Or just goes on vacation? What is the procedure when a server goes down in the middle of the night? Would anyone notice before business was disrupted the next day?

When a small company chooses to use a managed service provider, these questions are no longer relevant. You are not impacted by the loss of an employee or having to scramble when they go on vacation. If a business-critical system goes down, you will be notified and it will be handled quickly. If the power goes down on site your systems are not impacted (depending on your level/type of service). If your company is subject to compliance requirements, you don’t have to worry if you are meeting them. For many businesses, managed services provide peace of mind and value that more than compensate for the cost.

Have you taken a hard look at the cost of a full-time IT employee? Read the last of this series, Cost.

 

How 20 Minutes Can Save Your Business: 2 of 4

In my previous post, I promised 4 topics that if considered may make you re-think outsourcing IT.  We started with the specialized knowledge required to keep IT running smoothly for a business today.  No one (or two) person will have it all.  If you missed it, check it out here. Today, I'm going to focus on the strategic support you get from the right IT partner.  IT should be a business enabler, not a cost center.  The right partner will provide that support.

Reason #2 - From Password Resets to Profit (Setting an IT Strategy)

If you currently have a full-time IT employee or team, how often do they approach executives to get input on how to better support the business using technology? Based upon experience, my guess would be not very often. Smaller IT shops typically do not have the time to keep all of their systems up to date (not to mention password resets, break/fix, email issues), much less consider how to make the technology profitable. The most valuable function an IT organization can provide is not just keeping the lights on, it is enabling the business to grow.

Outsourcing your IT to a managed service provider gives you access to consultants that will work to align technology with your business strategy. Some even provide virtual CIO services, such as planning a technology roadmap, developing an IT budget, and analyzing and reworking business processes.

How are you mitigating the risks associated with maintaining an IT environment? See our next installment on Reducing Risk.

 

How 20 Minutes Can Save Your Business (And Your Sanity)

You are busy, I get it. There is not enough time in the day for you to finish the tasks on your plate, much less extra time to evaluate new technology options. Whether you are part of a small internal IT team or your company has added IT maintenance to your ever-growing list of responsibilities, Fluid has you covered.  There are 4 key reasons to consider outsourcing IT that you may not have thought of in the past.  I'll cover these reasons in a 4-part series.  So if you have 20 minutes, read on and we might be able to change your IT life!

Reason #1 - Specialized Knowledge

I recently participated in a meeting with a potential managed services client whose IT staff consisted of two full time IT employees who both left the company unexpectedly. The reasons they exited are common in small business, though are not often considered in decisions regarding outsourcing. For one employee, the responsibilities were just too overwhelming and they could not handle the workload; the other believed that they did not have a vertical career path. Unfortunately, most small companies cannot afford IT employees with the depth and breadth of knowledge required to adequately run an entire IT environment. Many of the good ones don’t stick around because they are offered more money for their skills by larger companies. The damages left in the wake of their departure were systems and hardware that had not been updated in years, creating significant risk for this business and few options to resolve the issues quickly.

With the decision to outsource, you leverage the collective knowledge of a much larger IT organization. You receive the benefit of much broader coverage, access to expertise and skills you would not have otherwise, and reassurance knowing that critical systems will be maintained consistently.

Are you getting the strategic guidance that you need to grow your business? Check out the next installment on General Business Consulting.

 

Avoid Getting Hit By An IT Tornado

Knowing what not to do when starting a new endeavor in your small or medium-sized business can save you lots of time and money.

Starting up an internal IT department or assigning that responsibility to a single individual is no different.

In this article, I’ll show you four IT-related areas that you’ll want to cover to keep ahead of the game.

1. Identify an Internal Point Person for IT

Most SMBs don’t have the budget to hire an IT person. By default, there is either no one given operational responsibility for IT or it is informally tossed around to various people like a hot potato.

It's not surprising that non-IT people don't want this responsibility. But leaving it unaddressed, ignored and informal makes matters worse because it forces everyone to be involved to some degree.

Every company -- no matter the size -- should have IT as a fundamental operational area and discipline within their business. This means they should have a person responsible for it. When it comes to importance, IT is not much different than accounting. But you never find a company, no matter how small, that doesn’t have someone responsible for it.

The person responsible for IT does not have to be technical or know how to “do” IT. But they do need to manage IT operations.

Many times, this falls to the financial controller or CFO due to the costs related to IT. The most important thing is that the person knows what the role entails and what areas of responsibility they have.

Fundamentally, the IT “manager” should have operational responsibility for business critical elements such as:

  1. Development of a basic IT strategy that is mapped to overall business goals
  2. Development of an annual budget for IT based on a strategy
  3. Managing third-party technology vendors
  4. Assuming the role or designating a single “gatekeeper” for managing all requests for IT services and support
  5. Conducting annual or semi-annual reviews with business leadership and key IT vendors to ensure an IT strategy is being followed and modified as necessary
  6. Ensuring the company follows a standardized approach to IT (g. standard desktops), project management, and gathering requirements (for new software, etc.).

2. Involve IT Early

One theme we continually run into is companies not involving IT soon enough -- or at all -- in business decisions. Many areas of IT have led times that cannot be shortened regardless of how loud you might yell. The result is key business goals that are missed, which has a direct negative impact on the business.

Some examples we commonly see are:

  1. It’s Friday afternoon and the office manager casually mentions the new employee starting on Monday that will need to be “set up.” Adding a new employee (user) requires planning and lead time for any equipment that must be ordered, additional software licenses, email and other systems setup, etc. The lead time to order a new workstation alone is often 2-4 weeks. Giving IT at least 30 days’ notice ensures the new employee will have a machine to work on.
  2. It’s Monday, February 8th, and the owner says the company is opening a new branch on March 1. The space is already leased. The furniture, painting, and prep have been scheduled. Ten new employees will be starting on March 1 in the new space and will need access to systems. We already know the problem we may be facing with getting all the machines in on time from #1 above. But the bigger problem is Internet service in the new office. Not only do you have to find out what Internet service options are available at the new address, but once a business-class Internet solution has been decided upon, it typically takes 30-45 days to get the service in place after documents have been With only three weeks’ notice in this example, the company may have a new office with no Internet for 1-2 weeks. Being productive with no Internet service is difficult.
  3. The marketing department hired a new vendor to provide a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. The vendor will also be developing custom capabilities for the department. If IT is not involved in this decision, the company discover some unfortunate surprises: the vendor’s new solution does not work with existing software, they have horrible support, their software is using outdated technology, the CRM doesn’t meet compliance requirements, etc. No one wants to be in the position to say “I wish I had known about this six months ago.”

Moral of the story -- always involve IT as soon as possible and let them opt out if they aren’t needed.

3. Avoid Consumer-Grade Anything

In the IT world, there is a big difference between business-grade solutions and consumer grade. Many companies avoid business-grade solutions due to the higher cost. What they aren’t factoring in is the costs related to downtime due to failed equipment, higher support costs to maintain and manage the equipment, and overall lack of features, functionality, and business security requirements.

When added up, these costs are always higher than the cost difference between business-grade and consumer-grade solutions.

A common example we see includes running to Best Buy to purchase critical equipment, which might include:

  1. A Linksys network switch
  2. A laptop for a new employee
  3. A Cisco router
  4. A Netgear wireless device

All of these items are critical infrastructure components for the company and purposely not built with all the robust capabilities a business requires. They are built with homeowners in mind, making these extra capabilities unnecessary.

IT should be involved up-front in the decision-making process. They can make recommendations based on specifications that meet business needs while also meeting the quality requirements of IT for features, security, and support.

4. Keep Support Agreements up to Date

Many companies take a “buy it and forget it” approach to their critical equipment.

Virtually every piece of technology a company purchases should come with a warranty and support agreement from the manufacturer.

These support agreements are typically 1, 2 or 3 years in length. If the support agreement is allowed to lapse, IT staff will not be able to get the support they need in the event of an issue, which is not an “if” but a “when” proposition.

A great example would be the company firewall support contract. The renewal notice is sent to the office manager and after a year or two of use, they have no recollection of the device and ignore the email. Consequently, the firewall support contract lapses. Then, when the firewall goes down, IT is brought in to fix the issue. They call the manufacturer to get help and are told they cannot provide assistance because there is no support for the unit. What should have been a 1- or 2-hour outage now becomes a week while everyone scrambles to get the support renewed. This is a significant negative impact on the business.

Keeping an inventory of all IT assets, along with their support renewal dates, is tedious. But not difficult and will pay dividends in avoiding painful, unnecessary outages.

IT is Critical for Businesses of All Sizes Today

Having someone in charge of IT operations that can provide oversight in all these areas, even if delegating it to their IT vendor, will avoid a business tornado. If you don’t have anyone in charge of your IT, don’t hesitate to contact us here at Fluid IT Services. We’d love to talk to you about what would work for your specific business.

We Expanded! Welcome, Fluid New Hires Jaime and Jacob

The Fluid Family Just Had a Growth Spurt

It’s a good sign when the Fluid team expands. It means more small and medium-sized businesses in the Dallas area are growing, they’re realizing that they really need a trusted partner to manage their technological backbone – and we need to add more members to our team to make sure these businesses get the support they need. The hiring process is never a quick one for us. We look for a combination of smarts, experience and the kind of personality that doesn’t cringe at the thought of going to a superhero movie for a team event. New employees must also be able to stand our special way of doing fitness challenges… FluidFit We’re happy to say we’ve recently found two new unique matches for our unique team. Drumroll please…

The Fantastic Jaime Fuerman

DSC_0182Jaime Fuerman has a solid track record of experience in sales, marketing, staffing and business development. We needed someone who could get to know our customers and learn their businesses inside and out, and this is where Jaime shines. “My goal as a business development manager is to be the ‘eyes and ears’ for our clients and the local market so we can better understand their needs and continue to add value to their businesses,” Jaime shared. “By better understanding how their companies operate, I get to know what those businesses really need, want and value – and I can be a trusted resource for them.” Jaime believes a successful company is all about the people. She cares about her customers and has a genuine interest in getting to know them and their businesses so she can help them grow and succeed. So when we asked her what sold her on the Fluid team, it’s no surprise that she responded, “The way they believe in doing business, their genuine commitment to their clients’ success, and most importantly the people.” Apparently we charmed Jaime as much as she charmed us during the interview process. Because no Fluid getting-to-know-you interview is complete without us asking an embarrassing personal question, we asked Jaime to tell us something funny about herself. She said, “I love to dance, but I’m terrible at it. I always end up embarrassing myself.” Motivated, customer-focused and utterly charming. It’s really too bad Jaime is a Sooners fan.

The Captivating Jacob Caramanna

DSC_0163When we needed some extra help-desk and customer support, Jacob Caramanna fit the bill nicely. He believes in trust, respect and mutual gain, and his ultimate goal is for our customers to be able to speak with him on a first-name basis. “I want Fluid’s clients to know that no matter what the issue is, if they pick up the phone then that problem will be resolved,” he told us. “I work hard to learn and progress both professionally as well as personally. If I don’t have the answers then I make it my priority to learn and find out.” Though Jacob is a full-time student earning a bachelor’s degree in networking and server administration, he is one of our most life-experienced new hires. He served in the Navy for 6 years as a radar technician, an intense job that taught him how to adapt and work well under pressure. When Jacob isn’t helping Fluid customers solve their pressing technology problems, he’s looking up toward the heavens. “I am a huge astronomy nerd. An all-around nerd, for that matter,” he said. “I love music, movies, games, reading and anything that lets me interact with others. I actually didn’t learn to read until I was nine, though, because when people read to me, I could memorize what they said. Yeah, it took my teachers three years to figure that one out.” Jacob, you’ll fit in nicely with this funny, geeky bunch. Want to welcome our new hires personally? Tweet them and say hello at @fluiditservices.

How to Build Your IT Structure from the Foundation Up

aligning business and ITMy father ran a fence and ranch supply business for 30 years without having any technology. He was quite proud of this. All receipts were handwritten and he did not take credit cards. But the simple truth is his business couldn’t exist that way today. You can’t run a business without technology anymore. Not just because it’s inefficient, but also because technology is now critical to providing customers with the best service and experience.

What are the baseline IT needs for my company?

Every company has baseline, foundational IT needs upon which business-specific technology is built. The great news is that baseline technology is similar for almost every company in every industry – so establishing your technology foundation should be pretty straightforward.

The Foundational Layer

In every company there will be layers of technical solutions, which are stacked to meet business needs. Business-specific technology is built on top of baseline technology, and users (employees, customers, vendors, ect.) are set up on top of it all.

Think about your baseline technology as the plumbing for your house. Plumbing is done first, unseen, and is critical to supporting the daily needs of the household. You build the house over and around the plumbing – and you build your business-specific technology over and around your baseline technology.

So what, specifically, is your baseline technology? It’s the core technology for communication and collaboration. They don’t call a technology network a “network” for nothing – your network connects all the pieces together so you can communicate.

Baseline technology typically includes:

  1. Security
  • Examples: firewall, anti-virus software
  • Examples: network switches, routers, wireless access points
  • Examples: network cabling for computers, phones, video, etc.
  • Examples: physical or cloud-based servers to host business software
  • Examples: laptops, desktops, tablets
  • Examples: Local or remote printers
  • Examples: Windows Server, remote access, email, data backup, accounting
  1. Networking
  1. Cabling
  1. Servers
  1. End-user devices
  1. Printing and imaging
  1. Core baseline software

Keep in mind that even baseline technology is not a “one and done” solution. All technology has a useful life — typically in the 3-5 year range — and must be replaced at the end of its lifespan. Plans and budgets should be developed to replace each accordingly.

The “House” Layer

Baseline technology – or your technology foundation – is very standardized and repeatable. It’s like toilet paper – everyone needs it and it must be continually replenished.

The next layer of technology, built on top of your baseline layer, is your business-specific technology. Think of this as the “house” that’s built over the foundation of the baseline layer. Most business verticals have a range of hardware and software solutions specific to the particular business – so this is where things get narrower in scope.

For example, someone in the oil and gas industry may use Well Pro 101 for their wells and OGSYS for geology data. A home builder may use BuildLinks software for construction management. These are solutions built on top of the baseline technology.

What Kind of Structure Do You Need?

When the time comes to determine your baseline and business-specific technology needs, at least two people need to be in the room:

1)    A skilled technical resource to define solutions to meet all your baseline needs

2)    A business person that can define the business requirements for the right business solutions

This is where the real value is – aligning the technology to the business!

Once you confirm your baseline technology needs and your business-specific technology needs, you will then need someone to support it all. Typically, IT support services are also broken down into baseline and business-specific.

Business-specific technologies are more commonly supported by the vendor that provides the solution. For example, BuildLinks, Inc. will support your BuildLinks software, and Programs 101 will support your Well Pro 101 software.

For your baseline technology support, however, there are thousands of IT service firms to choose from, because the technology is basically the same for any company in any industry. Choose someone who understands how all of the technology works together with your specific business needs and requirements.

Not to toot our own horn, but assessing your business requirements is where Fluid always begins every new client relationship – no matter how small or how large your company. We develop an IT roadmap for you and continually update it over time to ensure continual alignment between IT and business. Whoever you choose to work with, make sure they understand your business.

Is IT Safe on the Cloud?

cloud-storage-and-computingWith the bull-rush to use the cloud and web-based solutions, the question of security has to come up at some point. “All those systems and all that data that used to be safely tucked away in my office closet are now gone. Where are they now? And who’s watching over them?”

As nearly every software-maker on the planet is migrating their solution to be cloud-friendly, they are removing that software from your office and placing it somewhere in cyberspace. They are asking us to just trust them when it comes to security, reliability and value.

If you are a small to mid-sized business, you have probably seen this happen to others if it hasn’t already happened to you. If you use SalesForce, DropBox, GoogleApps, or QuickBooks Online, you are right in the middle of it.

While the value of these solutions can be substantial, it does leave many questions business owners simply don’t have time to deal with. Digging deeper into each and every solution can be a time-consuming project, taking you away from the very thing you desire – more time to focus on your business.

The reality is, instead of having a single magic box in your office that contains all your software and data, you now have software and data all over the globe — literally. To make matters worse, the solution may not even be as good as what you had. But that hardware closet is now empty, so starting over and buying hardware and software again is likely not a good option.

Here’s a real-world scenario. Your company has decided to get out of the IT business because you are too small to employ an IT staff and it’s too expensive to keep up with all the hardware and software required. So you replaced ACT! with SalesForce for your customer relationship management, replaced your file folder with DropBox, replaced QuickBooks with QuickBooks Online, replaced paper expense reports with Concur, and use a private cloud provider for your custom software.

The good news is your software and data is accessible anytime from anywhere. But the scary thing is you don’t know exactly where it is or if it’s safe.

The Right Questions

Most of the major cloud players, as in my sample above, are large providers that can meet almost every requirement you can throw at them. The question is, What are your requirements?

If you are in healthcare, you likely need to ensure some, if not all, of your solutions are HIPAA compliant. If you are in retail, you need to ensure you are PCI compliant. If you are in financial services, you need to ensure you are SEC compliant. The list goes on. The absolute worst time to learn your requirements is during an audit. Talk about too little, too late.

What about data backup? Is your data backed up? How often? How easily and quickly can it be restored? What if one of their data storage facilities goes down — will your business still be operational? As with an audit, if you have a disaster and need to recover, you couldn’t pick a worse time to figure that out.

Who’s watching the store? With all your solutions now spread out all over the place, who has an overall understanding of your business and overall IT needs, collectively? Every solution you deploy should follow an IT Roadmap specific to your business, following a defined path, but you now have everything dispersed without a map and thus without direction.

The Right Steps to Peace of Mind

There are some basic things you can do, even as a non-IT person to ensure you are in good hands.

Have a relationship with a trusted IT provider

You may not need IT staff, but having a trusted IT service provider looking out for your best interest and keeping up with all these requirements is key. They do the legwork for you. They can also provide the hand-holding and support required when needs fall outside the scope or capabilities of your solution provider. Most importantly, they provide a holistic view and can make recommendations for your IT needs from top to bottom — something none of the individual solution providers can do.

Ask questions

Every solution provider you use should be able to tell you where your data is, if it is secure, if they meet regulatory requirements, how it is backed up, what to do in the event of a disaster —and the big one —how do you get your data if you decide to change providers?

Watch your fees

Most cloud-based solutions are purposely sold to “get you in,” and then have ways to increase fees over time. This can be through upselling to a version with features you really need after you’re already in, additional per-user fees which grow as your company grows, or usage-based fees that increase as you use more. Invoices should be detailed and clear. I see many cloud-solution provider invoices with a single line and no explanation of what’s in it. Ask for more.

Don’t be afraid to change

Cloud solutions can be a perfect fit for your company, and they can fit for years — but you can also outgrow a solution due to your business’s size or requirements. You should be able to easily change from one solution to another – the data is yours! Remember about asking questions? Make sure you understand beforehand the vendor’s process for providing you your data should you decide to make a change.

How do we know all this? Because Fluid IT Services does all the above for our clients. As a full-service IT firm, we are a trusted partner and advisor to our clients with an active role in helping our clients ensure all of these questions are addressed. Often we have to be the “glue” to make this all work and be the one to address issues when (not if) they happen outside the scope of the individual provider’s willingness and ability to help.

Also, as a provider of cloud services with the Fluid Cloud, we are on the other end having to answer those same questions for our clients.  So we get IT! Is your IT safe with us? You bet it is!

We Take IT Personally

First I must confess, I am biased. But I really believe we have the best people at Fluid IT Services. From the technicians and engineers on the ground working with our clients, to all of our operational staff, we really do zealously protect the relationship with our clients and constantly search for ways to make improvements. Yeah, so you hear that from every vendor and see it on every website — but there really is a difference if you look close enough.

Let’s take cloud services for an example. Search for “cloud services” on Google and you will get over 869 million hits! It would take a lifetime to review them all. But if you refine the search to “cloud service providers,” you come down to a more *reasonable* 58 million. Ha! Still overwhelming and pretty useless. So let’s try another angle and search “cloud server hosting” – now we’re down to 17 million. Making progress.

You will notice many of the results are cloud providers offering the same solutions – cloud servers, application hosting, virtual machines, scale CPU and storage, pay as you go; the list goes on. So what are they all missing? The answer is: the right PEOPLE.

fluid-teamWhere are all the people that make cloud solutions work, and more importantly, work the way you want and need for your company? Sure, the cloud provider has dozens of magicians behind the curtain pressing buttons and flipping switches — but where are the people that work with your and for you, the actual user?

See where I’m going? There is a gap, and a significant one. The vast majority of cloud providers offer solutions with virtually no way to support the actual users on an ongoing basis, much less to take the time to actually learn your business. To them, the cloud is the “be all, end all” — to us, the cloud is just one of many services and solutions that we employ in the client relationship.

Yes, I just said that word – relationship. How can a cloud provider meet your business needs and requirements over time if they have no relationship with you? They have no way to know what your needs are or what your needs will be down the road. Without a relationship, they simply can’t help your business grow in the direction you want it to.

At Fluid, the foundation of everything we do is to understand our client’s business and develop a relationship first. Based on that understanding, we craft an overall solution that begins and ends with people. Our clients need ready access to support of all kinds, whether technical, operational or simply advice. The Fluid Cloud is a means to an end, but when you wrap that service in a blanket of support you have something special, meaningful and sustainable.

Who is going to hold your hand when deciding what cloud services you need or even if you need them at all? Who is going to dissect your business to determine what is best? Who will then hold your hand during the process to ensure that not only is the green light “on” in the cloud, but that your users actually know how to use it most effectively? Who will hold your hand after the honeymoon is over and you need help after the fact? PEOPLE.

At Fluid, our entire business model is based on the fact that our clients and their clients need support from people that understand and take their business personally. I know, “it’s just business, it’s not personal” is a catch phrase used to prevent hurt feelings — but don’t worry about hurting our feelings. We have thick skin and want to know you personally.

Regardless of size, each and every one of our clients is precious to us, to be cherished and handled carefully. Each client has their own personality, so we not only want our people constantly involved, but we take care to understand and match personalities to ensure the smoothest relationship possible.

This gap — call it the personnel gap; or better yet, the personal gap — is something you just won’t find with the large providers. They are not built to provide a personal relationship, and often consider it a costly distraction and hassle. The fact is, it does cost money to provide the right people at the right time. It costs money to provide someone on-call, someone to come onsite and work with you face-to-face. Yet that is the very core of what we do. It’s an investment we are happy to make.

You just want IT to work for you so you can concentrate on your business. Your IT service provider should take your business personally so you can do just that. And that is where Fluid excels.

7 Ways to Get Faster IT Support

Things you can do to get your IT guy to work more effectively with you

Requesting technical support doesn’t have to be a painful process. There are things you can do to ensure you get faster, more accurate responses from your IT service provider. And even though we here at Fluid pride ourselves on great customer service and painless small-business IT support, the following tips help us help you faster, too.

Tips to Help Us Help You

HELP ME HELP YOU!

1.   Describe the issue or problem in excruciating detail.

Put on your creative writing hat when you submit a support request. Get as descriptive as you can, right out of the gate. Describe in detail the  hardware or software you’re struggling with. Even if you don’t know the terminology, IT support technicians are trained to translate statements like “the blue thingamajig on my Epson M2530 printer.”  Just give us as much detail as you can.

2.   Detail everything you did leading up to the issue, including anything you’ve tried in effort to resolve it.

In your initial support request, walk us through, step-by-step, what you were doing before you encountered the problem. Then detail all the things you did to try to fix it (including throwing it at the wall). This eliminates the need for us to walk you through actions you’ve already tried.

No doubt you’ve had frustrating experiences with support technicians, where it was obvious they were following a script. We hate that as much as you do, so we can honestly tell you that a good support technician will take note of what you’ve already done and not waste your time repeating those actions unless absolutely necessary. This is one of our Fluid promises: we won’t waste your time.

3.   Provide a good contact number in your submission.

This seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many times we’ve received support requests that include an indirect phone number – or no phone number at all. If we can’t reach you quickly, we may not be able to solve your problem quickly.

4.   In relation to number 3, be available to work with your support technician should they need to troubleshoot over the phone following your support request submission.

If your technician needs further information, or believes it will be faster to walk you through support steps over the phone, stay available as much as you can. “Phone tag” will extend the time it takes to get your problem solved.

5.   If you are unsure of why something is being done, or you want to learn the process or procedure, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Sometimes you just want to understand why your technician is doing things a certain way. Maybe it will help you in the future if you encounter the same problem again. We get it. This is completely reasonable! A good IT service provider will happily answer your questions.

6.   State it clearly in your support request if the issue is urgent or an emergency.

If you are working with Fluid, you can be assured that urgent requests are quickly moved up to the top of the priority list. If you’re not a Fluid customer yet, make sure your current provider has the same policy.

That said, submitting a support request ticket and then calling in actually increases the response time. This is especially true if you happen to reach a different support technician on the phone than the one who is already handling your electronically-submitted request. Give your technician time to read your request, prioritize it properly and respond to you.

7.   Most importantly, please remember that your support technician is on your side.

We know that IT issues are extremely frustrating. At Fluid, we want your experience to be as pleasant and seamless as possible – and we hope whoever you use feels the same way. But even if you deal with one of those annoying, script-following technicians that other companies sometimes have, remember that their sole purpose is to solve your problem.

Of course, the only way we can guarantee that you’ll have a great IT support experience is if you’re a Fluid IT Services customer. So if you’re ready to work with a team of IT professionals who value customer satisfaction above all else, give us a call at 214-245-4117 or email us at support@fluiditservices.com.

Do you really need a full-time IT person?

In-House IT Staff: Salvation or Waste of Money?

How do I know when I need to hire an IT person?

When-to-Hire-an-IT-personThis is one of the most common questions we get asked here at Fluid IT Services. And it’s one we actually really enjoy answering — because our answer often surprises people.

What’s ailing you?

First, we need to consider your symptoms. What prompted you to ask this question? Common answers include:

We keep having problems with our systems and I really need someone available onsite when I need them.

A contractor or vendor could never understand our business – we have to have someone in-house.

We are growing so fast and I am just afraid our vendors can’t keep up.

Our office manager took on the IT support role, and now he is completely overwhelmed.

These are all absolutely legitimate reasons for considering hiring IT staff. Still, hiring staff isn’t always the best move.

Many organizations fall into the trap of hiring too low or too high. By that, we mean they do one of two things:

The organization hires an inexpensive, inexperienced “IT guy.”

The result? The IT guy is able to do the easy stuff, but gets in over his head on the more difficult tasks. Worse yet, they may try to do one of those complicated tasks and end up breaking something that costs you big bucks to repair.

The organization hires a high-end, experienced engineer.

The result? The engineer gets bored. They realize they don’t have any opportunity to grow within the organization, and their attitude (or worse yet, their work) reflects that. Management begins to get resentful because of the high cost of keeping this sour employee.

Breakdown of the diagnosis

When you really dig deep, most people feel they need to hire IT staff because of one of these three reasons:

Control. Often companies feel they have more control over an in-house IT support resource’s time. They also feel that a member of their staff will be more dedicated to their company. Business knowledge. It can be hard to imagine that a tech support resource who is not onsite could possibly learn the ins and outs of the company’s business. Cost. Onsite staff may seem like they would be a cost savings.

Prognosis

Let’s get real, here. Most small- to mid-sized businesses don’t have the budget to hire the breadth of IT staff required to cover all of the technology needs of their company.

Most of these companies also don’t have the skills required to manage an IT department. Nor do they have the ability to keep up with changes in technology while still devoting time to support the business.

Finally, and most importantly to a happy company, most small- to mid-sized businesses don’t have the ability to provide a technical career path that will be attractive to exceptional technology resources. The result: high turnover.

Treatment options

As a small- to mid-sized business, you actually do have a great alternative to hiring IT staff.

You can hire a vendor that specializes in augmenting existing staff.

Not to toot our own horn, here, but Fluid does this kind of work all the time, and we can be a huge help. But even if you decide to shop around, make sure the company you hire focuses as much on learning your business as keeping up their skill-sets.

Another thing to keep in mind when you are considering vendors is breadth. As your business grows, can your vendor accommodate your new requirements?

These are things we really pride ourselves on. We care deeply about our customers’ businesses. We want to know what’s troubling you so we can help you fix it. And we keep up on all the latest technology to do so. Make sure the vendor you are considering does the same.

You don’t need to hire IT staff. You have options. Consider a vendor to augment your existing staff – you will save yourself the headache of hiring staff while reaping the benefits of extra tech support.

Car Spa Focuses on its Core Business by Moving Data Management to the Fluid Cloud

After a winter storm with power outages revealed limitations and inadequacies of Car Spa's in-house IT systems, Car Spa engaged Fluid. The results for Car Spa were greater IT efficiency, availability, and security detailed in this case study. Read More