Thanks to Jim and Ian, Canadian Business Magazines entrepreneur supplement PROFIT published another article by me on asking the pointed questions that ensure you are getting the most value out of your IT Staff or suppliers

The column is for growing business owners, ‘C’ level execs and managers, and briefly covers;

* How quickly can we fix breakdowns?

* What’s our long-term plan?

* How are we managing our tech spending?

* What will we do if a tech disaster strikes?

* How are we using technology to boost productivity?

The full column is here!

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Marketing expert Seth Godin has a brief  rant post regarding his frustration at being unable to contact the sales teams at several organizations via an e-mail address.

After searching for that type of product or service, he found the web sites of some businesses that met his criteria. Next step, Mr. Godin starts looking for some pricing information, and…. was having difficulty finding a way to contact the business sales team to get that information!

Yes, as a SME, your Web Site must have the Contact page within 1 click of every page, and I am going to assume that your business would not give Mr. Godin that same problem. I know that your Contact Us page clearly  gives your sales@ e-mail address, your phone number, the works.

What I wanted to expand upon a little, is  how you can ensure that those critical e-mails coming from people who actually found your Web Site actually get monitored by more than one person.

Which of these methods do you currently do?

If you are like many businesses in the SME space, these critical functional e-mail addresses usually work as follows;

* Someone is assigned to manually check an e-mail in box for (probably others such as HR@, info@ too)

* Or perhaps one individual has an e-mail alias (secondary address) for this functional sales@ account.

The Problem?

Those methods both require humans and are prone to error.

First; an individual is assigned to do the e-mail check. If that individual is sick one day – will someone know to take on that task? Or will that sales request languish until the one person responsible returns?

Secondly, in the second example, where the e-mail is assigned as an alias, again human intervention is required. Does someone check that e-mail if that individual is sick, or on vacation? How about if that individual leaves your business? that alias must be transferred to somebody else. If you forget to do that, any e-mail saying; ..we need your product tomorrow! is gone to that great computer in the sky.

The Other Option: The Distribution List

Using Distribution Lists is a far more effective, less error prone method of dealing with those critical and other functional (eg. HR@, info@) e-mail addresses.

This does assume that you are using an e-mail platform that supports creating these distribution lists. (some Web Only E-Mail programs may not) But rather than relying on one individual to look for these important e-mails, create a a Distribution List (the exact steps will vary depending on your e-mail platform) then assign two or more individuals to that distribution list. In this case all team members assigned to the list will receive that critical e-mail.

With some mail servers, you can even have a central copy of that e-mail stored in a common public folder before the distribution list sends copies to all memebers of the list. This gives you a permanent copy of that e-mail.

The SMB Takeaway

I know you have great people, but if one individual has been checking that sales email address for years, I guarantee that it will be easy to forget that a plan B must exist if that individual is away.

That individual can still be the primary person to act on all email coming in through your distribution list, but since the backup individual automatically gets a copy – they cannot forget that they are that human backup!

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I know – broken record again.

Excellent example here of the verbal diarrhea that too many SMB’s consider content on their Web Sites.

“I understand being vague, but I have no idea what this Company does. At some point you have to say what you do.”

Follow the link to see an excellent sample of Web Site gibberish.

Here is what you won’t see;

* Any attempt to engage, entertain, or a call to action

* Any attempt to identify my pain, my problem and how you can help

How do you introduce yourself at a luncheon with your local Chamber of Commerce?

If it is two paragraphs of verbal diarrhea, sorry to hear about that.

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Photo Credit cindy47452 via flickr

Is Generation SaaS Here?

October 26, 2009

Treb Ryan at posts the argument that this recession may be just the nudge required to push Software as a service (SaaS) over the tipping point of user adoption, possibly leaving installed software packages as a footnote in the history of the Internet.

I easily fit into most of the boxes that Mr. Ryan argues will spell the decline of the old school complex, application architecture.

….expensive, difficult to use, challenging to integrate and complex to install

Check, check, check, and check again!

I know I may sound like a broken record if you have been reading this blog for a while, but for those of us the SME space, there are still a few land mines that we have to beware of.

1) A SaaS provider of ours recently unilaterally changed the terms of our agreement. Will that have an effect on you if it occurs to you?

2) A lot of the providers in the SaaS space, and a lot of the reams of digital ink written about it are still very US-centric. What are the liabilities and jurisdictional risks we need to consider? As an example, if I, as a Canadian business, do business with Cuba – am I liable for a visit by the US Patriot Act police if my data is hosted on a SaaS vendor’s servers in California?

The SMB Takeaway

I am not saying that these are necessarily deal breakers, but a full evaluation of the risks, as well as the benefits are required to calculate if it is the best option for you.

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Let me paint a picture of two scenarios here, if they have not happened to you yet, buy a lottery ticket, because sooner or later, they will!

Scenario Number 1!

It is too early in the morning, but you manage to pour yourself that coffee, sit down at your desk, and promptly spill that coffee all over your notebook keyboard.

Scenario Number 2!

It is still too early in the morning, you still manage to pour yourself that coffee, power up your computer…. and meet;

a) a black screen
b) a blue screen saying something along the lines of BOOT ERROR KERNEL FAULT IN MPORTDRV.SYS
c) Maniacal laughter as your PC grinds to a digital halt

OK, so number three was exaggerated, but the first two were not!

As an owner or manager of a smaller business, I am sure that your technology service provider set up a server for you. They probably handed some backup tapes to whom ever is sitting closest to the server as well!

But are you actually using that server?

Or are those proposals, invoices, and reports just sitting on each persons computer or notebook?

uh huh??

You probably have most of them on your machine right?

The SMB Takeaway

Your Tech Services provider may have set up your server to back up all your data, but most likely they did not set it up to back up data on every individuals personal computer!

And if your data is not on that server when the coffee meets the notebook keyboard….

Good luck with any data recovery.

Even if you travel a lot and absolutely need your data, every few days make sure that you at least make a copy of it on your server. If your machine dies, at least you have something!

An ounce of prevention….

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Photo Credit cathyse97 via flickr

Do You Need Business Goals?

October 21, 2009

Do We Need Goals?

Do We Need Goals?

A thought provoking article at SlowLeadership titled; Do You Need Clear Goals?

In that article, the author presents a great argument that goals can actually be more detrimental than beneficial to our strategies. As one example; setting goals can lead to a tunnel vision on that goal, ignoring any other factors that may be occurring within our business environment. In the authors words;

Flexibility and goals don’t mix

I am of two minds on that concept.

First, I can agree that when goals (and more specifically, their rewards) are too short term and structured, abuses like we have been seeing on Wall Street are going to happen. Because you do get what you pay for.

On the other hand, as a manager in a SME, I don’t believe that we can just write off goals completely as we try to execute our strategies. (herding cats springs to mind )

Without goals it becomes difficult to find metrics. Since metrics are goals. Performance measurement relies on setting, and monitoring, measurable objectives.

Can we set any measurable objective with no goals?

The SMB Takeaway

I definitely agree that we must not allow tunnel vision to block out the sidelines around us, but if we are not aiming for those goal posts, what are we aiming for?

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Photo Credit KTDEE via flickr

As small to medium business Owners or Managers, at some point you realize that the time has come to look for some leadership to take control of your IT  team.

Like most businesses, in your early stages of growth you probably hired your IT staff based on particular skill sets that you needed. Perhaps those skills were with certain Point of Sale systems, database software or email servers, etc.

While skills and experience are critically important when supporting and fixing your existing technology and software tools, that requirement for a particular skill level begins to change as you begin looking for higher levels of IT leadership. Those exact skill sets can become less relevant than business results.

That is not to say that there can be zero technology skills!

As SME managers, we need to wear many hats. That includes your IT managers. We need (‘we’ meaning  business technology leaders) to maintain our technical skills, but we also need to grow the more business results oriented strategic planning, relationship, and project skills.

Skills, Results: Let me paint an example

As a growing business lets imagine that you have reached the point where you have decided that you need to invest in a larger resource planning (ERP) or financial application.

This can be a huge investment, so after many discussions with your peers, and maybe a consultant or two from your local Chamber of Commerce, you think that a particular product will be perfect for you. Lets also assume that those same discussions convinced you that to support this type of technology initiative, you will need to go beyond your current break/fix  tech geeks to a true business technology leader who can be responsible for delivering the value you need for this investment.

Answer this question;

When you call the placement agency, or publish the advertisement, what importance do you think skill with the product you chose should carry in your hiring decision?

The answer is not necessarily much!

Next, lets assume you are now interviewing a few candidates for that IT leadership position.

One particular candidate looks excellent. She has great recommendations, and has successfully implemented ERP or financial software a few times already!

But! she has never used, or even seen that particular ERP or financial vendor’s product that you want to implement. Do you think that matters? Do you write her off the short list?

Here is a tip!

A strong business technology candidate will pick up different software skills easily. Example; I was once flown in to fix a problem with software environments I had never seen before, it was less than two days until I understood enough to fix the issue.

It is the skills to discuss, negotiate and implement the processes behind the software are the harder ones!

Your candidate can demonstrate that he or she has obtained the results that you are looking for several times, it is only because each time she was using products that are competitive to the product you have chosen that you are considering knocking her off the short list.

So in this example, the demonstrated results this candidate can show far outweighs their lack of skill with your chosen software package.

The SMB Takeaway

Skill and experience with a particular product can be critical when you are hiring someone to babysit a particular tool or product, but demonstrated results is the critical metric when you need leadership to provide business benefits from your IT investments.

Hire Well!

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