IT Support

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!

Cybersecurity - "You can't handle the truth!"

I’m a guy who likes sports and movies, and my wife tells me that I’m constantly quoting sports analogies and movie tag lines. Guilty as charged.  So, why do I do that???  Because I can quickly state a movie quote or sports reference to explain a situation to someone, without having to spend an hour doing so. If I tell someone “you just fumbled”, knowing this person likes or understands American football, he or she will immediately know they made a mistake.  Notice how I stated ‘American football’ lest I confuse it with the round ball version and defeat the very purpose of my analogy.

ManYelling

The problem is, if I use my linguistic mojo on people who don’t follow sports or movies (yes, those people do exist), I not only don’t get my point across, I confuse them.  Many times, I get that tilt-of-the-head puppy look and then a nod, never asking me to clarify what I meant.  It’s surprising how many people never ask the question – I don’t understand, what do you mean?

This can be very frustrating and even a cause for escalating arguments and disagreement later.

To clarify, here’s an example of a recent conversation when discussing a company project…

Me: “We’re at the one-yard line!  It’s time to punch it across the goal line!” Colleague: “Got it!  You can count on me!”

A week later…

Me: “So that project was completed, right?” Colleague: “No, I’m still working on it.  I need to add some more detail." Me: “What!  I thought I told you and we agreed this needed to be done asap!? Like yesterday.” Colleague: “Oh, I’m sorry.  You didn’t tell me it was urgent.” Me: “I did tell you it was urgent.  Remember ‘the one-yard line’, ‘the goal line’?” Colleague: “Yeah I kind of recall something like that.” Me: “Then why didn’t you get it done??” Colleague: “Why are you yelling at me?  I have no idea what you meant.” Me: “Why didn’t you ask?

And the downward spiral continues.  The frustration level for everyone is extreme.  Worse yet, the project was not completed, and the company suffers.

I see this same scenario over and over again as it relates to technology and business – especially with cybersecurity.

Get serious about cybersecurity SecurityGuard

Articles are published every day stating how businesses aren’t taking cybersecurity seriously enough only to be completely ignored.

I constantly come across articles that give real statistics showing how businesses think they are secure, yet they have recently been breached or compromised!  How is that possible?  Why do businesses, led by extremely smart people, continue to ignore the very real threat that cybersecurity breaches and hackers can easily compromise their business’ livelihood?  Why do they continue to have incidents, and not learn from them?

Some studies show, many business owners rely on their insurance policy to save them instead of protecting their assets proactively.  I believe some of that is true, but I believe the real issue is a complete disconnect in communication.

The danger of miscommunication

MiscommunicationThere is a very real and dangerous disconnect in communication between business and IT!

I read an article recently that was trying to get businesses to understand the importance of cybersecurity and the importance of communication between IT and business.  Here is how the article begins…

 

ArguingDigital transformation is happening rapidly in every industry. As companies move toward software-defined infrastructures (SDI) connected to powerful cloud ecosystems, they can tap into the near-real-time intelligence from the data gathered from every edge of their business, helping to drive faster business decisions and changing the way they serve their customers.

Rapid transformation, however, without a solid plan, can produce cybersecurity vulnerabilities. As infrastructures go virtual, security models need to shift. To avoid serious risks and security management issues, companies need to identify challenges, strategize, collaborate, pilot, test, and evangelize. *

 

Did you have to read it twice?  Did you understand even part of it?  What exactly is ‘every edge of their business’?

“Trust me, Greg, when you start having little Fockers running around, you'll feel the need for this type of security.” Meet the Parents, 2000

Yes, I did it, I used a movie line from the great film “Meet the Parents” to make my point.  If you haven’t seen the movie, you have no clue what I’m talking about.  Business leaders have not seen the cybersecurity movie!!  They don’t understand a word coming out of your mouth (another movie reference).

Don’t allow technology to get lost in translation

LostTranslation

In all seriousness, business leaders have not taken the time and do not have the time to learn all the parlance of cybersecurity.  Yet, we keep pummeling them to death with cyber techno-speak.

The reality is, both business and technology leaders have a responsibility to their companies, their employees, and themselves to learn enough about each other to make the conversation relevant.  I can keep showing business owners all statistics. But, most of them still don’t properly plan for or budget for cybersecurity, and most will only do so after they’re hit with ransomware or have a breach.  But what is ransomware?  What is a breach?  What do they look like? What is the actual cost to the business now and in the future?

This is not a one-sided issue. IT professionals also need to learn how to translate technology jargon into terms that business owners can understand.

The same case can be made for IT experts making an effort to understand the language of business and understand the impact they are having.  When business owners and leadership speak in terms of EBITDA, CAPEX, OPEX, Life Time Value, Gross Margins, Net Margins, Cash Management, etc., they are speaking a language immediately understood within the group, but many times foreign to the IT group.

At some point, business owners, leadership, and even board members must work with IT experts to start taking cybersecurity more seriously.  Both parties must be willing to have an open dialog where each is not afraid to ask questions, educate and translate into terms each party can understand, to make better business decisions.

If you want to have a discussion regarding your business and how the cybersecurity landscape impacts your company now and in the future in a language you can understand, contact us! We will be happy to advise and educate you in this increasingly complex space.

May the force be with you!

 

* AT&T Cybersecurity Insights Vol 7

We've moved everything to the cloud, we don't need IT staff or support.

It’s Fall, the weather is cooler, football is in full swing and we finally moved all our systems to the cloud.  No more worrying about having the deal with all that techie stuff.  Life is good! vectorstock_3501851

 

“We’re in the cloud, we’re all good.”  We hear this all the time from business owners. The number of companies using cloud services for all their business software is increasing. With no servers and software in the office, many people have the misconception that any hardware still onsite, requires no attention.

So, when asking owners and CEO’s about their IT needs we get the quick “We’re all good, everything we have is in the cloud.”

This misconception is not only inaccurate, it is extremely risky.

While it is true that cloud solutions can mean computers in the office, laptops and desktops may not need to be as beefy because all the work is ‘in the cloud’, the fact remains there are still devices, and more importantly, users that will require the same level of IT support and responsiveness from their IT staff/provider.

Security is a primary concern when in the cloud.

In the “old days”, users would login to software and systems running on servers in the closet.  When there were issues, the IT guy would come to the rescue, and they would take systems down to do maintenance, upgrades, etc.  Having your software in the cloud can be very easy to use, convenient and appear to not need the same ongoing care and feeding, which can be mostly true and a great advantage of the cloud.  But that one first step – logging in, is still a critical component to ensure proper security is in place for accessing systems now in the cloud.

Managing security is still a core requirement for every business and with the “sprawl” of cloud solutions, many companies use multiple cloud applications requiring multiple logins and passwords.  On the other end of that cloud application is a user that still requires support when things go wrong, or when they want to add something new.

Users still exist and need to be supported

Seemingly simple cloud applications like DropBox still require security settings, user settings and support in a business environment.  You probably don’t want all employees to have access to sensitive HR data.  Users still must be added and managed, printers still stop working (the bane of my existence), and laptops and desktops still fail.  Assuming there is no need for IT support, puts the company back into reactive mode, only addressing needs after something happens.

Reverting to reactive support is a step backwards in user productivity

Most of what IT does is under the water line.  Like the propeller and rudder on a boat, you can’t see them, but they are required if you want to move forward in a precise direction.  Technology is only visible when the business and users are accessing it.  Much of the cloud is below the water line and appears to work on its own, but it still requires the skilled engineers and technicians to ensure everything is working to meet the business goals.

When you add the ongoing and more visible needs of the end-users, having good, proactive managed IT support and security is a MUST! Therefore, even when everything is in the cloud, having the right IT support can make the difference between success and failure.

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: 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.

 

Does Overseas IT Support Really Work?

As an IT services company, this is a question we get all the time: Will offshore or overseas support work for our business?

It’s a legitimate question, and one that deserves a thorough answer because overseas IT support can be a very effective cost-saving measure.

The Growth of the Overseas Outsourcing Trend

Many years ago, large enterprises started outsourcing their IT services and support overseas to save money. Pretty soon, this practice spread into small and medium businesses and throughout every business segment. Initially, this outsourcing did exactly what it was supposed to do: it provided necessary IT support while saving the company money.

The problem that businesses began to face, however, was a dramatic decline in the quality of service and support. Sure, companies were saving money, but they were driving customers away because those customers would not tolerate the drop in quality of service.

Overseas support also caused the practical issue of language barriers. Strong accents made even simple communication very frustrating. This is a touchy issue that many people don’t want to discuss, but it’s a very real business problem. This is not an indictment of the overseas support people’s skills or abilities at all – it’s just a reality when two very different languages and business cultures are trying to communicate.

More than likely, you have experienced this yourself when you call for support for one of the products you own. I sure have. Every time I call AT&T for support with my home telecommunications services, it is a frustrating experience. Because the AT&T support representative on the other end of the line has a thick accent, the call takes two or three times as long as it should. We spend so much time trying to understand each other – and often I don’t get the resolution I need.

It’s no wonder many business owners and managers hesitate when it comes to outsourcing their support needs to overseas teams.

But. But! There are cases where overseas IT support can work.

When Outsourcing IT Support Overseas May Be the Right Move

When the support role requires limited interaction with staff and end-users, it can work well for businesses. This is especially true when the role is very technical.

Software development is a perfect example. This can easily be done by someone overseas at a fraction of the cost of local U.S. support. As long as the software support process is clearly defined and the technical requirements and specifications are detailed.

When outsourcing to overseas support is successful, these support resources end up costing the business less money, of course. But there’s a second benefit many companies don’t consider: the time zone difference.

Time zone differences are often an issue in real-time business operations. But with non-urgent technical support, it can be a good thing. If your support team is 8-12 hours different from your local time, and you log a support request during your workday, the support team will be working on that request while you sleep. So when you come into the office the next day, you should have an answer waiting.

When Offshore IT Support Fails

The more a support person has to interact with your staff or end customers, the more challenging it becomes – and the more the quality of service declines.

We have tried using overseas IT support for our clients, so we know this from experience. We had to pull the plug a few months in because the support didn’t meet our quality-of-service expectations.

However, we do still use overseas support for some internal tasks that do not require direct interaction with customers and do not require extensive interaction with our internal team.

The Answer Is: It Depends

In my experience, the likelihood that offshore IT support services will work for your business is directly related to the amount of interaction required.

The higher the interaction level, the lower the success rate.

Conversely, tasks that can be done with little or no interaction are very good candidates for overseas support.

A great example of tasks that would match well with offshore support would be routine research and list-building tasks.

If you need to have a support person contact or communicate with customers or staff – overseas support may not be a good move for you.

In summary, the potential for success or failure is dependent on the tasks you need IT support personnel to perform.

Should You Bring Your IT Back In-House?

Should You Bring Your IT In-House? I shared a story not too long ago about a company that wasted massive amounts of money when they brought their IT staff and all their technology back in-house and onsite. It ended up costing them $300,000 up-front and $100,000 per year in perpetuity. It was an unfortunate situation to witness, especially when the waste of money could have easily been prevented.

But not every company who brings their IT in-house loses money like that. Sometimes it makes more sense for a business to bring technology and IT support onsite.

So how do you know when it’s a smart move – and when it’s a budget drain?

Start With This Quiz

For most small to medium-sized businesses, and even many large businesses, hiring an outside IT vendor is more cost effective and provides a wider range of services than an in-house IT employee can provide.

But there are exceptions.

Answer these questions about your business honestly:

  1. Is your business growing so fast that your IT vendor can’t keep up?
  2. Do you have proprietary or regulatory reasons that you must have in-house IT staff?
  3. Does your company have a career path for an IT person?

If you can say “yes” to any of those questions, you might have a strong case for bringing your IT in-house.

Most high-quality IT service vendors can easily keep up with your business growth. With a single phone call, they can help you expand your cloud storage space, add new users or provide your company with new or upgraded software. Sometimes, however, a business grows at such a rapid rate that an “outsider” simply cannot keep up. In this case, investing in in-house IT may be a good option.

Another case where in-house IT may be beneficial is if you have special proprietary or regulatory requirements. For example, you have created your own software, or the regulatory body that governs your product or service has issued a certain IT staffing or equipment requirements. These situations are exceedingly rare, but they do happen.

Even if you said yes to both of the first two questions, if you can’t say yes to the third question, you may have a problem when you try to bring your IT in-house. If you hire IT staff and have no set career path for them within your company, dissatisfaction and attrition are going to be inevitable. You have to make sure your IT employees have room to grow, or they’ll quickly get bored and seek more challenging (and higher paying) work elsewhere.

The Benefits and Drawbacks

The benefit of having in-house IT staff is that you can walk down the hall and talk to them. They’re also 100% dedicated to your business, not splitting their time serving other customers.

When you bring your technology in-house, you can feel like you have more control over it. If it crashes, you walk down the hall to your IT guy and send him in to the server room to fix it.

But can you really afford to hire all the IT staff you’re going to need to cover all your possible IT needs? Probably not. An IT vendor (like Fluid!) is going to have a broader skill-set, and be able to spread out and provide the resources you need when you need them. And you’re not going to have to spend at all that money hiring staff to cover all your bases (or worse, hire a cheaper, lower-skilled staff and still have to hire an IT service company to fix things.)

And what about the ongoing maintenance cost and space requirement for all that in-house technology? Keeping your business in the cloud (in other words, using an IT vendor and having access to their data center) may require a monthly fee, but it will actually save you a lot of money. Plus, it saves you storage space – and most importantly, you can expect a lot less downtime for your business.

Consult the Experts

If you’re considering bringing your IT in-house, I highly suggest that you bring in a third-party IT expert to look at your business and crunch the numbers first. This type of consulting is something we do for our customers pretty often, and we’ve been able to save them a lot of time, money and frustration.

You might be thinking, “An IT vendor is going to be biased. They’re automatically going to tell us to not move our IT in-house.” Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for Fluid. We get requests for consultations all the time, and I can tell you that the answer always boils down to your business needs.

Sometimes we do recommend that a company brings their IT in-house. In those cases, we also share with the client the best way to do that so the business needs are met.

And sometimes we’ll recommend that a business hire a qualified IT vendor to take care of their needs. We’ll even uncover how much money the business will save in the process, and help them define their overall IT strategy and plans. We have found that kind of information is invaluable to time- and budget-crunched business owners.

Don’t just take the leap and pray it saves your company money. Take the time to think through your business needs, and bring in a third-party IT expert to help you crunch the numbers and determine the right strategy to meet your business goals.

If you’d like to talk to the team at Fluid about this, you can contact us right here.

Hello? Is Anybody Out There? – IT Responsiveness Can Make or Break Your Business

IT Responsiveness Can Make or Break Your BusinessHave you ever been stood up by a plumber? I have.

I had an appointment scheduled between 8am and noon for a plumber to come fix my kitchen faucet. I took time away from work to stay at home and wait for this guy to come fix the leak.

At 12:30, when he still wasn’t at my house, I called the plumbing company. Turns out the plumber got stuck at another job that was taking longer than expected. When I asked why no one had called and communicated this to me, I got a brief apology and an offer to reschedule.

The earliest appointment they had was three days away.

Thank goodness my kitchen wasn’t flooding, or I’d be using a lot more graphic language here.

Responsiveness: We expect it in the people around us. In a business, it can make or break you.

In a recent poll we conducted on over 25 businesses, we discovered that responsiveness was one of the top 3 most important aspects of their relationship with their IT vendors.

So why does it go to the wayside with some IT service vendors?

There Are Different Types of Service Commitments

In the service industry, there are different levels and types of service commitment.

For example, at home you may have Internet service from Verizon FiOS or TimeWarner Cable. If your internet is down they will schedule someone based on what they call “best effort.” They will make their best effort to get someone there soon, but make no guarantees or commitments. This often means days before an appointment.

In a business you may have “business class” Internet service from Level 3 or AT&T, who offers a 4-hour response time guarantee.

In both situations, these are covered by Service Level Agreements or SLAs. Most consumer or residential services, whether that’s a plumber or Internet service, have SLAs that state “best effort,” if anything at all. Business-level services typically have SLAs with much more defined rules and guarantees regarding response times.

Know What Your SLA Is Before You Purchase

Educate yourself on the service provider’s SLA before you buy.

If it is a mission-critical service to your business, you likely will decide you must have at least a 4-hour SLA, so look at vendors that can provide this.

If it is non-critical, the “best effort” level might suffice. Anything with a 4-hour SLA will cost more, so it’s best to discuss and agree on what the business really needs before you sign any contracts.

SLA needs can vary based on business operational area as well.  You may require a 4 hour SLA for your accounting system, but next business day for your marketing group.  Defining SLA’s at a more granular level by operational area can help manage expectations at more refined departmental level.

Knowing your SLA also helps to manage expectations proactively. If you have a service with “best effort” you should expect that it will take the vendor days to respond to your needs.

Responsiveness Is Everything in IT

As an IT services company, we have a staff of technical professionals manning the helpdesk at all times to receive and respond to the thousands of tickets (service requests) coming from our hundreds of clients. Every client is equally as important as the other, regardless of size.

As with any service, the customer usually wants and expects an immediate response and rapid resolution. Although a very noble goal, responding to and resolving every request in minutes is not possible and many times unnecessary.

Going back to SLAs, there can be different service levels based on the client, based on the ticket or based on the service. It is critical that both the Fluid team and our clients understand any service level agreements in order to properly manage expectations on both sides.

Is the ticket to add a printer as critical as a ticket reporting a system is down? Not at first glance — but it also depends on the service level the client is paying for. Ultimately, everyone involved would like them resolved as quickly as possible, but some amount of triage and escalation is likely to play a part in how and when resolution takes place.

So Communication Is Critical!

Responsiveness is different than resolution.

All of our clients, regardless of the criticality of their problem, deserve a rapid response to their request — or at least acknowledgment of the need and our plan to address it. Actual resolution of the problem may come later in the day or may in fact need to be scheduled up to a week later if we’re waiting on parts.

In either case, responsiveness requires consistent communication on the status of the request.

As the case with the plumber, it’s not good enough to have rapid response when the request comes in only to let the situation lay idle for three days with no communication. Without constant communication to provide updates, clients feel unimportant or forgotten about.

To really provide excellent service, you need to have rapid response with consistent and continual communication regarding the service request until it has been resolved.

This is a challenge that requires a culture of continuous improvement because there is no finish line. We can always be faster, always communicate more, and always resolve issues sooner.

This is why, when recommending non-Fluid services to our clients or selecting services for our own business, we focus as much on the support the vendor will provide as we do the product itself. It is inevitable you will need help and you need to feel comfortable and confident you will receive the service and response that warrants having your business.

Do You Know What Your IT Group is Doing? Really?

Whether you have your own full-time IT staff, use an outsourced IT company or a combination of the two, how important is it that you understand what they are doing? Business leaders normally don’t care what IT is doing unless there is a major problem or a major need. They don’t have time to be bothered with it. They expect IT to “just make it work.”

That philosophy and approach may have been fine several years ago, but in today’s technology-driven world, the less you know about your technology performance and plans, the more risk you assume. And the less you keep up with your competition.

As the business leader, if you don’t understand your technology plans and roadmap you’re asking for trouble!

What makes this paradigm shift even more vexing is that many business leaders do not understand technology enough to even question the road their technology group it taking them down. Business leaders are forced to just trust that the strategy is sound, the solutions match business requirements, and the technology skill-sets are present and available to provide the quality of ongoing support needed.

A Case Study with an Unfortunate Ending

Case in point, recently I was working with a professional services firm with 100+ staff. They were recently given a recommendation and supporting (rough) business case to bring all the technology from the data center back on-premises in the office. The reasons they were given for this move were: poor service, high cost and the large size of the firm.

The cost of making the move was well over $300,000 in initial capital expenditure, plus the addition of 2-3 more IT staff to help manage the environment.

The ongoing costs for IT staff, hardware and software support agreements (now that they would own it), facilities management (they had to build their own mini in-house data center) would cost well over $100,000 a year in perpetuity.

When I reviewed the plan it was immediately and abundantly clear that the internal IT staff was building their own fiefdom to create job security. Reviewing the stated pros and cons, I discovered that many were a stretch and some were flat-out misleading and wrong.

Hiring 2-3 additional IT staff alone is a cost red-flag (and avoiding that cost is a major value proposition for cloud solutions). Sadly, after investing in a project of this size, the firm feels obligated to use the solution, regardless of any flaws in the overall plan.

DON’T Learn This Lesson the Hard Way

The higher the risk, the higher the cost, the more disruptive the change. If you take one thing away from this post, it’s this: Have a third-party IT expert review your plan prior to final approval.

We understand that most companies are forced to trust in their IT group. They are forced to trust that the IT group always has the best interests of the company in mind and that they will do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.

With the technology options increasing almost exponentially, it becomes incumbent on the business leaders to ensure they first define then understand the overall IT strategy and plans. At least at a business level.

You may not want to do this. You may see it as a drain in your own productivity. But blindly following technology recommendations can have far worse consequences than ruining your day – it can ruin your business.

Technology Impact – Owning & Bringing the Datacenter Back In-House

Do You Know What Your IT Group is Doing? Really?

The diagram above is a visual of this unfortunate case study. The increase in cost, business risk and technology disruption were all high — and one of those alone can be enough to warrant a third-party IT review — but where there is intersection of two or more it becomes critical.

Many companies have extremely experienced and talented in-house IT staff, and many times their recommendations are rock solid. But when the business is on the line, the extra step to obtain outside validation can only help everyone sleep better at night.

Technology Impact – Migrating to the Cloud

Using that same case study, had the firm done more analysis and due diligence to include migrating to the cloud, they would have found less risk, less cost and less business disruption.

The goal of this post is not to undermine or discredit your current IT staff. My purpose here is to ensure business leaders have the right amount of awareness, education and knowledge to make better IT-related decisions.

Business leaders do not have to be and should not be expected to be IT experts, but they should know when to reach out for assistance.

At Fluid, often times we are asked to play this role — not to slow or disrupt the process, but to provide professional review and advisory services in critical business decisions related to technology. We are asked to help companies define and create IT Roadmaps to meet their business objectives over the next three to five years.

Are you on the verge of making a huge IT decision, and you’re ready for an objective review before you sign on the dotted line? Contact us before you crack open that checkbook! We have a very talented team of experts with years of experience deploying onsite solutions and cloud solutions, and providing ongoing IT support for a wide array of industries. Our clients come in all shapes and sizes, so we understand what is at stake and take great pride and responsibility in the role we play in their success.­­

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.

The Death of Software As We Know It

gravestoneIt’s true. Software, as we know it, is dying out. You might think I’m crazy since the software development industry is booming. I realize that we are inundated with more new applications for our computers, tablets and smartphones than we could possibly ever use – Apple alone has over a million applications available on the iTunes store that have driven 40 billion downloads as of January 2013. So how can I say software is dying?

When talking about the traditional ways consumers and businesses have purchased and used software, the landscape has completely changed and this has dramatic implications.

The Olden Days

It wasn’t that long ago that buying software meant first determining what software you needed, then going to a store or vendor to purchase the software, and finally returning to the office with a box containing a CD-ROM and instructions. You would load the software on the machine you wanted to run it on and boom, you were up and running. Many times, the licensing restricted the use of the software, so you could run it only on the machine in which it was loaded. If you had problems, you would call the vendor and they would walk you through troubleshooting, which sometimes required you to dig up that CD-ROM and reload the software.

Everything was physical and tangible; you could see it, touch it and know it was there.

Transitional Years

As the Internet grew in scope, the software industry changed. Now if you want to install software on a machine, you are most likely guided to a website with a link to download the software yourself.

For some this task can be intimidating – but when you ask the nice salesperson to give you a CD (media) instead so you can load it yourself, you’re often told, “Sorry, we don’t have CD’s anymore. You have to go to the website.”

This can be additionally frustrating if you know you have to download a giant bulk of software using a slow Internet connection. You have to literally plan this event around your family or coworkers to ensure you actually can download the software in its entirety before it “times out” or you get kicked off because others are also using your Internet service. I’ve known many businesses that run their big software downloads overnight in the hope they will finish by morning.

If you have a problem with your software after you have downloaded it, your nemesis, the evil software support technician, may inform you to download the software again from their website (remember there are no CD’s anymore). Really?! Are you kidding?! You don’t have another day to devote to downloading this behemoth again!

What happened to the good old days when you could have that beautiful, iridescent disc in your hand to load it whenever you wanted? Gone, baby, gone.

The Growth Spurt of Cloud-Based Software Solutions

Recently the software industry has spun yet again. Now we have cloud solutions, where you don’t download anything. Nada. There is nothing to load on the machine, it’s all “vaporware” up in the cloud. You are given a link to a website where you set up a user name and password; you simply log in and voila, you’re in business.

Sounds like a better deal than downloading software overnight, right? More and more software providers are moving to a cloud-only option for their software (known in techie terms as “Software as a Service” or SaaS) because they know if they don’t, their competition will and they will become obsolete. So why the big shift? Why are they all moving to the cloud? Aside from having to keep up with their competition, there are some real benefits to the software provider:

  1. Less cost than producing, shipping and maintaining physical media (CD’s, books, etc.)
  2. Easier and less costly to maintain – bug fixes and enhancements can be made one time rather than in mass production
  3. More reliability and uptime – software is contained in datacenters with built-in redundancy, scalability and performance
  4. Less cost in support – all the manuals are online, troubleshooting information is online, software is online… not as many people are needed to support the product

So what does this mean for us, the consumer and business user?  There are some real benefits, but there are also serious deficiencies.

Benefits of cloud based software:

  1. You can get to the software anytime, anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection
  2. You can work on software in the office, then leave and pick up right where you left off at home or in the hotel
  3. You can easily get upgrades and enhancements without having to wait on new downloads
  4. You don’t have to own any of the equipment required to run the software (servers, power workstations, etc.)

Deficiencies of cloud software:

  1. If you do not have connection to the Internet, you are out of business (think airplanes and in rural areas)
  2. If you have a slow Internet connection, the performance can be brutal and counter-productive (DSL or slow copper service is still prevalent just about everywhere)
  3. The support stinks! People have been replaced by blogs, links and countless hours surfing content with no option to call anyone. (This is a huge pet peeve of mine!)
  4. You may be forced to spend more money on better Internet service just to keep up and ensure your software performs satisfactorily

A Cloud-y Future

With any innovation or technology advancement comes growing pains and problems. The shift of software from CDs to downloads to the cloud has had its fair share.

But the future is clear. Software vendors will continue to migrate to the cloud and in doing so, stop providing and supporting previous forms of delivery. They must do this just to stay relevant. The days of personal delivery and white-glove service from software vendors are over.

That said, we need to continue to demand better service and support from software vendors because eventually that will be the differentiator. Those that provide great service will thrive while those that don’t will struggle. Instant-message chat-bubble conversations may work for some, but I still prefer to talk with a real person, ideally that speaks my language, who has the experience to solve my problems. It’s those businesses that most often get my business.

I don’t expect my parents to ever board the train to Cloud Software Land, but when I watch my daughter work with four applications at one time on her iPhone, iPad and Mac, all concurrently, I am reminded I’d better find a seat on the next departure. Because if I miss that train, I too will be left behind.

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.