Productivity

What are managed services?

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As the world around us changes, so do the terms we use to describe things that have been around for decades.  This phenomenon is very noticeable in the political arena with the advent of changing terms to be “politically correct”.  I’m not going anywhere near political topics in this blog, but you get the point.

Terms are also changed in the business world, often by someone in marketing trying to put a new spin on an otherwise old subject.  One prominent example today is the cloud.  Cloud can mean a lot of different things to different people, but the basic definition is moving computer systems or software applications outside of your office or home into an offsite datacenter or datacenters.  Anyone using iCloud to store their photos or music is using the cloud.  However, cloud hosting is nothing new.  Software and systems have been housed offsite in datacenters for years.  In the 1980’s and 1990’s this type of service was often referred to as ‘offsite hosting’, ‘colocation’ or simply ‘hosted services’. 

Like cloud, managed services have been around for decades with different names.  Today, an entire industry has been built around managed services.  The companies who provide managed services are called Managed Service Providers or MSP’s.  Managed Service Provider is most often used in the technology industry.  Gartner* defines Managed Service Provider as the following:


A managed service provider (MSP) delivers services, such as network, application, infrastructure and security, via ongoing and regular support and active administration on customers’ premises, in their MSP’s data center (hosting), or in a third-party data center. MSPs may deliver their own native services in conjunction with other providers’ services (for example, a security MSP providing sys admin on top of a third-party cloud IaaS). Pure-play MSPs focus on one vendor or technology, usually their own core offerings. Many MSPs include services from other types of providers. The term MSP traditionally was applied to infrastructure or device-centric types of services but has expanded to include any continuous, regular management, maintenance and support.


As usual in our field, the definition includes an overabundance of techno babble.  In a more generic sense, the definition of managed services is using a third-party company to provide a business process or service traditionally performed within the company using company employees and resources.

Managed service companies make money by charging monthly fees for the services they provide with the intent of providing a stable and predictable cost that can be budgeted for by the customer.  This is the “continuous, regular management, maintenance and support” in the Gartner definition.  In most cases, the monthly cost of managed services is far less and at a higher quality than attempting to hire and operate internally.

Before managed services, outsourcing, fractional services, and consulting were common synonyms used to define the service.  In my opinion, over time, primarily due to a small percentage of poor-quality providers, outsourcing and consulting were cast in a negative light with lower quality results and higher costs.  The industry needed to distance from the negativity and managed service provider was born.

However, managed services come with its own challenges.  It can be very nebulous and generic to many in the business world. 

At its core, managed services are about taking a business process or portion of a business process and hiring an external firm to provide those services and do so with higher quality, typically at a lower cost when compared to hiring a team of employees to do it internally.

Although Managed Services and Managed Service Provider are often attributable to the technology industry, the concept applies to the entire professional services industry.  Each of these services can be aligned to a business process needed by any company running a business.  The amount of ongoing need for a service is dictated by the type and size of the business itself.  Although many have not embraced using the managed services moniker for their services, the concepts are the same.  Some common groups of managed service providers include:

  1. Accounting

  2. Legal

  3. Marketing

  4. Advertising

  5. Human Resources (HR)

  6. Information Technology (IT)

Each group can have many specialty services within them.  Customers may have the option to choose the type and amount of managed service they need for their business.  Using the example above:

  1. Accounting

    1. CFO services

    2. CPA services

    3. Bookkeeping

    4. Month end close and reporting

    5. Accounts payable

    6. Accounts receivable

  2. Legal

    1. Contract creation

    2. Intellectual property

    3. Employee disputes

  3. Marketing

    1. Collateral creation

    2. Logo design

    3. Website design

    4. Writing copy

  4. Advertising

    1. Ad creation

    2. Ad purchasing

  5. Human Resources (HR)

    1. New hire processes

    2. Termination processes

    3. Payroll services

  6. Information Technology (IT)

    1. Helpdesk services

    2. Network management

    3. Systems and services management

    4. Security

    5. Cloud management

The customer has the choice to choose what service and amount is right for their business.  As a company that has provided technology services for the past 20 years, we have seen the ‘preferred’ terminology for what we do change from consulting to outsourcing to managed services.

At Fluid, our Managed Service Provider offering means we take over the day-to-day and ongoing technology needs of our clients, including managing their other vendors (often a pain point).  It is an all-inclusive plan purposely designed to alleviate the risk, stress, and pressure related to managing technology. 

From our clients perspective, our MSP plans simply means someone else is handling all their technology needs and they can focus on running their business.  Our clients also know we will proactively keep them secure and provide advisory services to help ensure technology is being used to maximize productivity and align to their company business objectives.  In reality, we strive to help the company use technology to grow and make more money.

Whether its unlimited helpdesk support with excellent service and response time or complicated migrations of systems to the cloud, we have a relationship built on trust that allows our clients to lean on us while they run the business.  We manage their technology operations top to bottom as if we were an employee.

Our most important metric we measure in relationship to our clients is client satisfaction.  If our clients aren’t 100% satisfied in the service we provide, regardless of the type of task, we are letting them down.

Managed Services can be a very powerful tool when understood and used properly to enhance any company’s business.  If you want to learn more about Fluid’s managed service offering give us a ring or click here!

 

* Source: Gartner IT Glossary https://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/msp-management-service-provider

Does anyone really understand Office 365?

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I was recently asked to provide training for Office 365.  This innocent request is like asking for training on airplanes.  The wide variety in types along with new releases with new features is a moving target.

Just when you think you’ve finally turned the corner to understanding Office 365, Microsoft releases half a dozen new products in a flurry to get them in the marketplace.  This has been a recurring theme over the past three years, seeming with no end in sight.  Trying to keep up is a daunting task, Microsoft itself often can’t answer questions about their own products.  They certainly lack any consistency.

This puts a tremendous strain on companies like ours who recommend, implement and support Office 365 products.  If our experts have a hard time keeping up and understanding the products, imagine what is like for a business trying to determine if Office 365 is right for them.

To make my point, let’s just scratch the surface of Office 365.  There are roughly seven bundled versions of Office 365 license types for business use.  Within each of these license types are “included applications”.  This is where it really gets interesting.  The Office 365 E3 license includes the following applications and services:

  1. Outlook

  2. Word

  3. Excel

  4. PowerPoint

  5. Access

  6. Publisher

  7. Exchange

  8. OneDrive

  9. SharePoint

  10. Teams

  11. Yammer

  12. Stream

Many of these applications and services may be recognizable and some completely foreign.  Understanding and using some of the more obscure applications and services are a luxury only attainable with an internal IT staff dedicated to Office 365.

This list is not near the end of it, not even close.  There are hundreds of additional add-on products and services to Office 365 for specific purposes.  Here is a very short sample:

  1. Visio

  2. Project

  3. Phone System

  4. Audio Conferencing

  5. Advanced eDiscovery

  6. Advanced Threat Protection

  7. Kaizala

  8. Intune

  9. Cloud App Security

  10. Meeting Room

  11. Enterprise Mobility + Security

  12. Dynamics 365

  13. Power BI Pro

  14. PowerApps

  15. Azure Active Directory

  16. Flow

  17. Windows 10

  18. Microsoft 365

Each of these products has multiple options and features to choose from.  In addition, there is an entire Office 365 Marketplace with thousands (over 2500) add-on third-party applications.  You get the picture.

Here’s a link to see for yourself: https://bit.ly/2JpXKkK

Adding frustration, many of these products change names (as with the Skype for Business change to Teams) and are released without, in my opinion, being fully vetted for any problems or bugs.  The general public ‘doesn’t know what they don’t know’ and may try deploying solutions that don’t meet the business need, don’t work reliably, or both.

It’s not all negative

Office 365 has provided a wealth of valuable productivity solutions at very affordable prices making them now attainable for the smallest of businesses.  When understood and used properly, business productivity and value can increase dramatically.  But there’s the rub.  The products must first be understood and then implemented properly with adequate training to take full advantage.

Consider again the original request: provide training for Office 365.  To train for Office 365 there must first be training on the Office 365 family of products and ecosystem to determine what is relevant for the business.  Care must be taken to understand and delineate mature and robust products from recently released ‘bleeding edge’ products.

It’s our job to understand and keep up with Office 365.  Internally, we must continually deploy and test new products to understand them, learn what works well, what doesn’t, and where they fit within business use cases.  Teams and Voice is a great example.

Skype for Business changed to Teams and added voice plans last year.  Teams is included in many Office 365 licenses and Voice is included with the E5 license or as an add-on.  We migrated from Skype for Business to Teams and from our previous voice provider to Microsoft Voice last year.  Transitioning voice services to Microsoft was not for the faint of heart.  Will our number transfer (port) correctly?  Will the voice quality be acceptable? Will the auto-attendant have the features we need?

Surprisingly, the migration of our voice services to Microsoft was easy and the quality has been excellent.  A pleasant surprise.  The migration to Teams was not as smooth.  Teams is a great application with an abundance of really great features consolidated in one place.   It has improved our collaboration and productivity while allowing us to shed products.  Answering a call within Teams and then sharing files, sharing screens and instant messaging during the call is awesome. 

The ‘gotcha’ with Teams has been SharePoint.  Transitioning our files to SharePoint was very time consuming and the change in ‘look and feel’ and how files are accessed has been difficult.  There have been painful performance and accessibility issues, including some downtime.  But we now know the details to better advise our clients through real world use.

Providing education and advice on Office 365 products prior to purchase and implementation will reduce the amount of surprises and frustration.  Ensuring every user understands the capabilities proactively will also reduce the amount of support requests related to the roll-out.  Time spent up front will pay dividends towards a smoother implementation.

Wash... Rinse... RETREAT

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It’s spring time, and that means many things – March Madness, bad allergies, baseball, spring break, and for the Fluid IT team, spring means; it’s time for our annual company retreat!  About ten years ago, the entire Fluid crew started traveling an hour and a half east of Dallas for the spring retreat weekend, and it has now become a welcomed tradition. It’s an opportunity for the team to spend time away from the daily grind at the office to recharge our batteries, bond, discuss our relevance as a company, and, most importantly, have fun!

What began as a one-day event, years ago, has become a 3-day celebration that everyone in the office excitedly anticipates. On Friday, as everyone, (including their dogs), spills out of their cars, the excitement and buzz increases as the team comes together once again.  You can simultaneously feel tensions release and happiness fill the air as we gather around the fire.  It’s amazing to watch people, who work together more than they are apart, change as drastically as the landscape between the Dallas concrete cityscape and the rolling piney woods of east Texas. The work mentality melts away and the fun begins. 

We often hear how important a company culture is to performance, retaining employees, learning, having fun, etc.  Without our annual retreat, we would be eliminating an important aspect of our culture, which allows us to hang up our “work hats” and connect on a more personal level. 

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During the day, some like to spend their time hiking, fishing or just enjoying the beautiful outdoors, while others like to play games, read, or watch movies.  But, the most anticipated and inspiring aspect of the retreat is the nightly gatherings around the firepit.  While smores and a favorite beverage are always a hit, it’s the ‘real’ discussions, that happen organically throughout the night, that allow us to connect on a deeper level.  With music playing in the background, topics ebb and flow effortlessly from work to favorite movies, politics, religion, home life, personal stories, future goals, family, etc. – peppered in with jokes and lots of laughter of course.  It’s a safe environment where everyone can just be and be present.

The food is almost an event within the event.  The second night of the retreat, we all cook and eat an enormous, southern feast. There’s something about cooking for, and with, the team that develops comradery and proves that teamwork is alive and well beyond the workplace…especially when it’s Texas bar-b-que. A belly full of ribs accompanied by a second night of good conversation and laughter around the firepit, is a great way to spend the last evening.

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The 2019 retreat brought a few surprises with major thunderstorms and a power outage on Saturday (not so rare for Spring in Texas). Fortunately, the sky cleared just in time for everyone to enjoy another chilly night around the firepit, topped off with some smores and impromptu poor dance moves. Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous, sunny day. While driving away, with azalea’s and wood duck’s in my rear view mirror, I was reminded just how special the “it” we have is.

 The tangible and intangible benefits of our retreat should not be underestimated. Teamwork and company culture are paramount for the success of any company – especially an IT company. Since we are tasked with solving complex technology problems for clients, the Fluid IT team must often collaborate and share ideas to come up with the best solutions. Without the respect, support and good chemistry that our team has for one another, we would not be able to effectively help our clients. Also, when employees feel valued and supported by management and co-workers, the overall company performance strengthens immensely. Work can be challenging and stressful at times, so the retreat allows me to show appreciation for the people that make this company so great, while also further enhancing our estimable culture!

Engage Workspace

Very exiting times for one of my colleagues, Chelsea Green. Chelsea, CEO of Engage, recently announced the formal launch of Engage Workspace, a new shared office center focused solely on attorneys.

There are many ‘shared workspace’ companies – some, like IWG plc (formerly Regus), have been around since the ‘80s. But, the “shared” office model has been rapidly increasing in popularity over the last decade. According to Forbes.com, shared workspaces will host more than 3.8 million people by 2020. WeWork now has 502 locations since opening their first shared office space in 2010.

But, what makes Engage so unique is that it is designed specifically to cater to the requirements of independent attorneys and small law firms.

From the Dallas Morning News article:

https://www.dallasnews.com/business/real-estate/2019/01/29/coworking-center-targets-legal-eagles-new-north-dallas-shared-office-location

“The new Engage Workspace in North Dallas is targeting attorneys with its co-working facility in the landmark Campbell Centre complex on North Central Expressway.

The just-opened workspace is designed to accommodate more than 60 attorneys with workstations, offices, meeting space, office equipment and other amenities.

So far, the co-working operation takes up a full floor in the building, but Engage says it hopes to expand to additional floors of the iconic gold Campbell Centre II tower.

"Independent attorneys and small law firms represent nearly half the legal industry," Engage CEO Chelsea Green said. "With continuing market changes and technology advances, that looks to accelerate over the next several years.

"With Engage, we have created an office environment that has the familiarity of a traditional law office but with the greater independence, flexibility and efficiency of an executive suite or co-working space."

Green and partners Jim Chester and Darin Klemchuk opened the co-working center Jan. 1. Chester and Klemchuk are both partners in the Dallas law firm Klemchuk LLP.

The owners are planning to upgrade this spring with a new coffee bar and more collaborative space.

"Attorneys are a perfect fit for the Engage office space model," said Chester. "Law practice is collaborative by nature, and attorneys benefit from networking with other lawyers to share referrals and resources."

Stephen Holley of Holley + Co. Real Estate negotiated the office lease for the co-working center with Barbara Houlihan of Peloton Commercial Real Estate.

Shared office providers now occupy more than 1.5 million square feet of building space in North Texas. Co-working firms are one of the fastest-growing sectors in the office industry.”

What is not mentioned in the article is that the Engage Workspace will also provide the level of technology, IT support and cybersecurity necessary for attorneys.  All companies require technology and cybersecurity, but attorneys have the additional challenge of needing to collaborate and exchange information externally while also keeping their practice and data isolated and secure. Engage understands this, often overlooked, requirement and will include it as a part of their service.

At Engage, attorneys will be able to be as productive and efficient as possible, while knowing their data is secure. Each tenant will also be provided with ongoing IT support from a team of technology experts.  The blend of amenities, technology support and cybersecurity, creates compelling value that independent attorneys and small practices typically would not be able to take advantage of.

For more information, visit www.engagelawspace.com.

 

Understanding Office 365

fluid-office-365I recently asked a very savvy business colleague the question “What is Office 365 to you?”  Their response was “Outlook”.  This is very surprising and telling because it comes from someone who has been using Office 365 for over a year! Ever since Microsoft launched Office 365 on June 28, 2011 (yes, it is already 5 years old!), there has been tremendous confusion in the marketplace about what really is Office 365.   Five years later and there is even more confusion and misunderstanding.  Whether you are a single consumer or a 500 employee company, I find a tremendous gap in what people think Office 365 is versus what it really is and can do.

There are over 85 Office 365 product SKU’s!

Although the person I questioned may be using Office 365 for just email and Outlook, it is something far greater; basically an entire ecosystem of solutions that can be catered for your specific needs.  Further complicating the matter, the Office 365 ecosystem continues to grow, with new offerings added all the time.  For example, Dynamics 365 was recently released this fall.

Office 365 has different product licensing and pricing for consumer, corporate, government and academic user types.  Certain Office 365 products are available if you have 300 employees or less, which are not available once you cross that threshold.

The core basic concept and offering of Office 365 is the bundling of mainstream Microsoft products with the bundles defined to meet specific user and/or company needs.

You can buy pre-bundled packages

For a small company, you can buy packages based on your specific needs.  For example –

  • Office 365 Business Essentials – for companies that need email and file sharing, but don’t need Microsoft Office, this package includes only Exchange Outlook email, OneDrive Business, Skype for Business, and Team Sites (SharePoint)
  • Office 365 Business – for companies that need the MS Office suite, but don’t need email, this package includes Outlook (no email, OneNote, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and OneDrive
  • Office 365 Business Premium – for companies that need both email and the MS Office suite, this package includes Exchange Outlook email, OneNote, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Skype for Business, Team Sites (SharePoint), and OneDrive

However, these packages are only available to companies with less than 300 employees.  If there are 300+ employees you must uses the ProPlus or Enterprise editions, which also have multiple bundled package offerings.

The Enterprise level also provides additional software solutions, such as –

  • Microsoft Access
  • Skype for Business voice capability
  • Power BI business analytics

 

You can add-on numerous individual products incrementally

Additional Microsoft solutions and products may be added incrementally to an Office 365 account based on specific business needs.  These may include services such as –

  • In-Place Hold to preserve deleted and edited emails for legal requirements
  • Hosted Voicemail
  • Data Loss Prevention to help identify, monitor and protect sensitive data, such as PII and PCI
  • Offsite backup of laptops/desktops using OneDrive
  • Microsoft Project Pro for Office 365
  • Microsoft Visio Pro for Office 365
  • Azure cloud services
  • Intune mobile device management
  • Sway (how many of you have even heard of this product?!)

Had enough yet?!

Did you know OneDrive is now robust enough that it could replace other mainstream solutions such as Box.com and Dropbox at a fraction of the cost?  Or that you can backup server data offsite using Azure with your Office 365 subscription?

This short article should make it clear that Office 365 is a very robust set of solutions, but equally as complicated to understand.  It’s no wonder, when asked, many think of Office 365 as black hole with no hope of understanding it all.  The good news is you don’t have to, but you do need to know to ask for help.  It’s amazing how many people and companies do not know where to go for help or know but don’t ask.

Fluid is one of a few Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) Partners, which means we not only have expertise in Office 365, we provide end-user support directly.  We can also help educate you on the best fit for your needs, as well as provide end-user training on the Office 365 products you already have to ensure you are maximizing the value of the solutions.

If you need help with Office 365, call Fluid today!