I know that this post will be anathema to every IT consultant in the small business / medium business space. However, it is true – in the SMB space, we are not all the same.

I had a great discussion with the president of a small business. We started discussing technology recommendations that his tech provider was recommending. After discussing his business and requirements, I said don’t bother, you will just be wasting money – invest it somewhere else in the business.

This business actually has approximately the same revenue as my own organization, and we have a huge technology requirement and investment. The difference?

Even though our organizations would statistically classify as the same size by revenue and other metrics, my organization is a technology based company. We provide on-line, Internet based tools. Just about everything we do has an electronic element of some kind. We generate revenue through the creation and management of technology solutions.

In this small business Presidents case, it is the opposite. His business is the distribution of manufactured product. He generates revenue moving boxes out the door.

So in his case, a basic technology investment for their financial package and e-mail. But nothing fancy required. As I explained, technology can definitely help speed up a process, but until you have identified a particular process that technology can help speed up – buying various technology tools or packages are not going to help you.

Perhaps you begin to find that you are getting a backlog in some piece of the business, just through lack of time to “paperwork” – perhaps for inventory, ordering, shipping etc. At that point you can begin to look at how a technology solution can reduce that backlog by reducing the amount of manual time to get the process completed.

I think that his tech supplier took me off of their greeting card list.

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Real SMB IT – Hosting

March 28, 2008

On a previous post here, I mentioned that for the most part I do not even maintain a “real” data centre in my organization. We provide an Application Service Provider model for some of our customer base. The 24×7 requirements of the applications, the need for security, the need for “lights out” management, and all the associated pieces required are too expensive for us to maintain internally. So all these critical servers are outsourced. They are hosted, maintained and managed in a large data centre that is not even in the same city as our office location.

Like all things, you have to be aware of the trade offs. And we are working through one of those right now.

Some of these servers are due to be retired. When you have your own servers, in your own data centre, it can be a little less stressful. You purchase and install your new server or servers. You then can stage your migration from old server to new server in what ever time frame and order that you wish.

In this outsourced hosting model, we have to get that migration completed as quickly as possible. The “old” and “new” servers cannot co-exist together for any length of time. That is not due to any technology reason, but plain and simple, while the two servers are running, we are paying for both of them. And only the one will be generating revenue.

So rather than a leisurely migration of database data, applications and data, it becomes a forklift upgrade that must be planned, and implemented as quickly as possible.

A Wonderful Thing

March 27, 2008

The Internet can be a wonderful thing. Every now and again you stumble onto something that is so perfect, that you have to share.

Perfect prose, perfect subject matter, and perfect humour.

OK, it is a little unsettling as well read it here.

OK, CIOInsight had this article on the IT skills shortage. The IT skills shortage, IT worker retention, recruitment etc etc is all over the technology press. Call it the hot button of the decade.

Of course the article drew the predictable rants – and, well, I couldn’t resist – I had to add my own comment as well. (with just some typo and grammar fixes) For non technology managers that may see this, the tech domain is getting a little too notorious for body shopping. Forget training someone on this years technology changes, just dump them and get a new one.

Its funny,

You know, I never see an advertisement looking for automotive technicians with skills on next years model.

I mean really! the guys fixing last years cars may as well be COBOL developers right??

When the IT programming language or process of the year comes along, everybody will be advertising and looking for 10 years advanced experience with a 6 month old technology.

Come on!!! – can the auto industry be so out of date? forget training those service techs! – just fire them all, and hire new ones! Surely there are already techs learning how to fix all next years cars right now!

Oh yes, wait – there are – the Automotive industry is preparing for the training their techs need for the 2009 model year as we write these words.

Maybe we are the ones truly out of date

As with any thing, it is never “that” simple. But it is a problem never the less.

UPDATE: timing is everything right? I had barely published this when I read an article in the March 01 print edition of CIO regarding server virtualization.

“… it can be hard to learn as you go with virtualization…a consultant can help you avoid blunders…”

Uh huh – training can too …..

my 2 cents

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I was reading an industry specific “trade rag” recently. To protect the “guilty” I won’t specify which one. I am sure that one of these exists for just about every vertical market and industry.

In this particular publication was a piece on supporting this particular industry with a certain technology platform and tool set. The piece started well, but then it became readily apparent….

…It was not a “piece” at all, but what I will call an “advertorial” – it was written by the supplier of the tool that could magically fix all problems mentioned in the article.

If you are a non technology manager and read some sort of industry publication, you may see a “tech” article similar to the following;

a) The article will start out with some general technology related concepts. So far – So good, no problem yet.

b) The next part will go into what you “should” do about it. I get suspicious when it says “should” and look for the next point

c) The by-line signature will then have, (surprise) the contact name of the company that provides the product that just happens to do what the article said “should” be done.

Being a technology manager, that bugs me. You want to advertise? feel free. You want to deliver a specific “white paper” that demonstrates your take on how your product can solve a specific problem – knock your self out. But technology vendors providing that sort of biased “writing” can be downright mis-leading.

First, No tool is a silver bullet. People, process then technology. Without the people and processes in place, technology won’t help you, see my post on automating broken processes.

Second, there is more then one road. When they say “should” in these advertorials, I can say that a different way is how it “should” be done. I could even plagiarize 90% of the article, change the “should” do parts to something that a competitive product does, and I would be just as correct.

If you are a non technology manager reading a technology piece in an industry trade publication – watch out for these.

This is not painting all vendor writing with the same brush. If the relationship is clearly stated up front, they can still be of value. Lets break these vendor written articles down into some bullet points;

Bad Vendor Piece

– Article Introduction & concept
– you “should do” this
– By-line signature by a company that provides the “should do”

Good Vendor Piece

– Article Introduction & concept
– Possible responses and methods of dealing with the concept
– How vendor can approach and help the possible responses and methods

Regardless of your industry, I challenge you to compare these advertorial writings with one of the other other non technology articles in the publication dealing with your industry. Using my bullet points, your industry expert articles will look something like this;

– Article Introduction & concept
– Possible responses and methods of dealing with the concept
– Demonstrations of how the responses and methods have helped others within your industry
– And possibly even comparisons of competing technologies that helped other organizations

You should leave the bird cage open
SIGNED: the Cat

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A March 2008 Ottawa Business Journal article located here, puts it simply;

..Forrester Research report from January says the value of online retail in the U.S. alone reached $175 billion in 2007 and is expected to grow to $335 billion by 2012, partly because retailers are moving away from the bricks-and-mortar format to the higher-margin web-based storefronts

Secondly, in Canada, a Canadian Business article points out that of roughly 2.3 Million businesses in Canada, an infinitesimal 0.3% have 500 or more employees. The remainder is all in the small business / medium business space.

As I have written on this site , and others have written elsewhere, the internet is the ultimate leveler. But it won’t do it by itself.

As the above Ottawa Business Journal article states, if your customers have to click through more than 5 levels, you will most likely lose them. So as SMB owners or managers, it is incumbent on ourselves to ensure that the web storefront is optimized to get some of that traffic and dollars. Our web sites must be optimized, they must be quick, clean, and accurate.

Even if you are not set up for true “e-Commerce”, and rely on a local market, you must ensure that your site is found, you must ensure that it presents you as effectively as possible, and that your service, your product, and your value can be seen effectively and quickly. And ensure that finding your location or contact information is dead easy.

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Keep Learning

March 24, 2008

This little note is for the SMB Technology Guru’s.

A recent post by Merrill Dubrow President and CEO of MARC Research brought this to mind.

As written about on this site, In the IT space, your mantra must be to Keep Learning. Never stop. And that does not just mean the newest server or programming language of the day. Keeping up with the latest pure “technology” issues will lead you to be a great IT “electrician” but to be in the next wave of IT workers, we will have to be part data steward, part relationship manager, and add to that part business process expert.

As Merrill Dubrow states,

Read all the time! In fact never stop reading. Concentrate on things happening in your industry, companies and names in the news. Focus on best practices that can help you with your job!

In my opinion, you must learn your industry and your industries pressures. You must know as much of your industry dynamics as any one else in your organization. My employer is a managed training services provider with an extensive customer base in the automotive OEM industry.

You guessed it, the last year or so has been a crash course on learning theory, the automotive industry, and related issues.