The title borrowed From a Small Biz Thoughts post of the same name: A Few Backup Rules To Save Your Butt

There is no auto-backup system that will work forever. Get over it.

Go read the rest

‘Nuff said

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Having been working with computers since the late ’80’s, I have a confession; (actually two of them!)

Are you a Mouser? or a Keyboarder?

First confession, I am a keyboarder – I avoid using the mouse and only use it when absolutely necessary.

And my second? I am a computing speed freak. Not in the sense of the biggest, fastest computer out there, but in quick response to application commands. (by that I mean keyboard commands!)

And those are two areas that Software as a Service (SaaS) is truly weak.

And yes, that even includes this WordPress blog.

In the time it takes you to click your way to your Google docs account, on my Wintel PC the CTRL-ESC keys bring up the Windows Start Menu, typing the letter ‘R’ brings up the RUN box, (if you have more then one thing starting with the letter ‘R‘ just type ‘R‘ again) and typing winword opens Microsoft Word.

Ditto opening my Web Browser Firefox.

No mouse required and fast.

In that same vein, I save my work at least every couple of lines or spreadsheet cells I write. At the absolute longest, I save every minute or two. In Windows applications CTRL-S does that. No stopping required, I can just type, type, type CTRL-S, type -and keep on going.

In fact I did that CTRL-S about 3 times in that previous line.  (I will explain that in a minute!)

That same keyboard shortcut on a web application just tries to do a Save As and tries to save it to your computer. On a Web Application You have to use the mouse to hit the save button, then just sit back and wait until that data refreshes back to you. (and probably it defaults back to the top of the page so you have to scroll down to where you were working!)

My E-Mail? CTRL-R or ALT-L replies or replies to all. Oh yes, CTRL-SHIFT-B brings up the contact list. I will race you in replying to email on your Web mail provider of choice!

It drives me nuts.

I know it is the wave of the future. And yes – I use several SaaS tools. But that is still something that annoys the hell out of me.

PS, when I write for this blog?

I write all the text you see here in Windows’ pure ASCII test editor notepad (CTRL-ESC / R / notepad) then when I have finished, I have to log in  to WordPress, select all my text (CTRL-A) copy it (CTRL-C) and past it (CTRL-V) into the new post area in WordPress.

Then I take a deep breath, hit the WordPress Save Draft button and go refill my coffee.

Photo Credit john a ward via flickr

As businesses in the small to medium enterprise, it is easy to think that only massive brands such as Toyota can get public relations nightmares from the loss of customer experience and trust.

Sure, a recall of some 8 million cars is a public relations nightmare for Toyota – But for SME’s, that type of risk is still there. The scale may be a lot different, (estimates are already in the billions for those recalls)  but then again the compounded effect on revenues can still be severe.

With Toyota recalling all of those cars, answer a question:

Are you, or anyone you know, reconsidering Toyota as a purchase choice? Are you maybe dangling on the fence a little bit, waiting to see what others say?

It only takes a small percentage of people answering yes to that type of question to begin hurting your sales pipeline. And for a smaller business, do you even know if those questions and answers are being spoken and answered about you?

Plain and simple, when someone has an  experience with your business, good or bad, regardless of your business size, there is a good possibility that they are going to talk about it.

In the good experience column, I previously noted this IT and Sales Success Story. Now this story falls into the bad experience column. Where a technology decision created customer frustration. (Mine!)

The Background

In our organization we receive a lot of data from customers and partners via a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server running FTP server software by a vendor called Ipswitch.

I had to add some new functionality to this product, which meant that I had to purchase an upgraded version of the software. OK, so there is not a problem yet.

But then I had to install that upgrade……

And that is when things got frustrating.

First, something I have never seen before:  After purchasing the software upgrade, I received a license certificate in Adobe PDF format that would automatically download and install the software by simply clicking an embedded link in the PDF file.

While that sounds interesting, don’t forget Rule number 1: Never install unnecessary software (such as Adobe Acrobat) on a server! Period!

So I was forced to break rule number 1 and install Acrobat Reader. That was more difficult than it sounds since most newer versions of Adobe’s Acrobat reader also force you to reboot the computer that you are installing it on.

And I could not reboot a server that is in production. So I had to search around for an older version of the Acrobat reader software that does not require rebooting.

Then? The Phoning Home….

So I start the next step;  Which is starting the physical upgrade of that software. The software installs with no issues, but then it tells me that before it will work, it has to phone home to the Ipswitch mother ship activation servers before I can use it. This phone home sequence needed a user ID and password that the vendor had supplied.

OK, so I let it phone home!

And it dies. The mother ship software activation server was not responding correctly. The activation server said that the user ID and password was wrong.

OK, no panic yet, I manually try to log in to that web portal using the ID and password they provided; the portal said I did not exist. (I know I exist, I am here aren’t I??) So next I tried the reset my password button;  That failed too, it still said I did not exist.

Next step, since I apparently did not exist, I tried the create a new account option using the account information that Ipswitch had supplied – Of course, it failed too. It said that I could not change anything because the account already existed! (So now it admits I do exist!)

I was stuck

The one tool said that I did not exist, the other said I did – and neither would work. Most importantly, my software would not work either.

By this time I was well over two hours into what should have been a quick upgrade.

Another rule of course is to always back up everything before upgrading any software!  So I had to make the decision to roll back to the old version.

By the end of this process, more hours had passed.  Hours which meant failed data transfers that I would now have to work to recover.

This upgrade attempt was done on a Sunday,  so Monday morning I called support and they had the problem fixed in minutes – in fact maybe seconds.

But the decision that could have ensured this mess did not happen?

Think about it – Many software applications do the phone home to activate routine. I have no issue with that.

But in the world of software, nothing ever goes as planned all the time.

So instead of killing that software dead when the activation server does not respond properly, how about ensuring that the software keeps working for a grace period long enough for human support to rectify the issue?

If that decision had been made, my Sunday would have been about an hour of work, a minor swear word or two when the activation failed, but then a quick support call to fix the problem Monday morning.

Instead, Sunday was almost 6 hours of work, and then many more hours tracking down failed data transfers.

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A post titled; Why Doesn’t My Web Developer Call Me Back? at Smallbiztrends

The post basically states that if you are a small business and hiring solopreneur Web Development firms, good luck in getting any future service from that vendor.

You know, what we can cynically call a tail light warranty. (As long as you can see my tail lights, it is under warranty!)

The argument in that post being that while building a new web site for you can be profitable for your vendor, doing the minor content changes afterward won’t be profitable enough for them to be worth the effort.

That is wrong from both sides of the client – vendor relationship

If you are a solopreneur doing Web Design work, use a content management system (CMS) or easy template. Make it part of your sales pitch that your customer can do their own minor content changes. If your customer still prefers you to do it, you have a fast and profitable way to do it your self.

If you are hiring?

For SMB’s that hire Web Design firms, if you think that the money you paid to create the web site entitles you to free upgrades every three weeks, screw your head on right.

If you recently had the brakes done on your car, do you feel that your relationship entitles you to have them do all other maintenance for the life of your car??

Umm, no

First, don’t expect free maintenance. Negotiate a reasonable fee if you want the developer to make those changes. This fee can be different if you supply the content yourself, versus if you expect your contractor  to actually create it.

Second, your contract with your development firm should include a method where you can make basic content changes yourself. Are you having a sale this month on your widgets or services? Why do you need some one else to update that content for you? there should be a template or content management system that basically says: type it here, click there and it is done!

Then the only time you would need your contractor is for structural changes to the site.

If you cannot change one tiny piece of content on your web site, your developer has failed, and you fail too.

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I wanted to break this into two posts, one as an introduction, and the second giving one recent example I experienced recently that demonstrates the concept.

As a general manager in an SME, there is a pretty good chance that your technology support individual or small technology team will be reporting to you, not to a dedicated IT Manager.

And as that general manager, you may feel that you don’t have the technical knowledge to question any recommendations or decisions made by your IT team.

Don’t feel that way! because that is a mistake, you don’t need to be a complete techie to ask these questions about these recommendations or decisions.

What the techies can forget

Quite simply, as a general manager, you are more likely to think about the second or third order consequences of any recommendation or decision. And unfortunately? too many technology specialists don’t.

As a business manager, your background could be sales, finance, or engineering. Whatever that expertise is, you already know that any decision analysis that is within the domain of your expertise has trade offs. Margin versus volume? Performance versus cost? As a manager, you know that you need to look beyond the basics into the longer term issues with any decision.

While your IT staff may give an idea or recommendation, they often neglect that longer term focus. They may think that recommendation is the  coolest new technology, but what are the second or third order consequences of that recommendation, of that idea, or that decision?

If your goal is reducing cost, perhaps that recommendation will increase costs because it requires secondary services or hardware that you don’t own.

If your goal is to try and use Salesforce.com for as much as possible to reduce CAPEX costs, perhaps this recommendation is going to need new servers and tools on your site.

Now while you rely on your IT team for technical details, it still up to you to ask questions.

These don’t need to be tech questions, but general questions such as;

– Does this idea fit into our current infrastructure and goals? Or does it require new services such as new databases, servers, or technologies.

– Does this recommendation require anything different in the technology infrastructure we have? Or does it have dependencies that are needed that you may not be familiar with?

– Will this work with existing solutions such as our types of servers, or backup software? or does it require new investments and skill sets.

– Does this idea require long term operating costs and requirements?

THE SMB Takeaway

You already think of the trade offs that exist in any decision that you make. So don’t let the fact that you may not be a complete ‘techie’ put you off from understanding those trade offs when it comes to ideas presented by your business technology team.

Because too many technologists may not think of them.

And to ask those questions, you don’t need to know Linux from Windows, or MS SQL from MySQL.

No tech required!

UPDATE: Part 2 is now here

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Photo Credit frangipani photograph’s creative commons via flickr

No matter how much you plan, there will always be surprises.

I guess that the most we can do is plan to take care of the unplanned.

When we decided that our software development team needed better workstations, we did our research on software and hardware compatibility and chose to to outfit the team with pretty state of the art 64 bit workstations.

But, no matter how much you research, the law of unintended consequences will get you.

In this case our older Lexmark printers don’t have the type of 64 bit printer drivers that I can install on my older 32 bit server.

Meaning I have to manually install each printer for each user at each workstation.

In any business environment, the law of simplicity states that your printers should controlled by your servers as network printers, not at individual workstations. But that is another post!

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Resistance To ITIL?

February 12, 2010

Resistance? To ITIL?

That can’t be true!

Everyone knows ITIL processes can improve IT service support and delivery costs, improve internal IT service management processes, and even make coffee in the morning!

You can laugh now! Everyone does not know that ITIL can improve internal IT processes. (OK, the part about coffee is untrue as well!)

But for SME’s looking at ITIL, first, it is a journey. And like all journey’s it involves change in the way people work, and changes in what they may be responsible or accountable for. And like any change, we as humans can resist change when we don’t understand the WIIFM. (What’s In It For Me?)

Along that concept, Ann All at ITBusiness Edge has a great article that I want to pull two bits from.

First, your IT team may be as resistant (or more so) to change as anybody else in your organization.  For some technology staffers, it may simply be not understanding the business implications about what ITIL can provide. And for some it may be because they are addicted to the glory of heroic  IT acrobatics, after all, avoiding any incidents or problems in the first place is hardly glamorous. And some technology staff can simply see it as an unnecessary inhibitor or overhead to their getting real work done.

The warning here is that an announcement that ITIL is going to happen on Friday! – Sorry, that won’t work. Like any organizational change this journey will be slow, require 10 times the communication that you thought necessary, and has to be taken in small, incremental steps. (You can try to do it all at once, but unless your teams and your people thrive on ripping the guts out of your business and rebuilding it from the ground up, you will have a hard time of it)

The second piece I wanted to emphasize, is that implementing ITIL processes are not an all or nothing exercise. I know that I have written a lot about this, but here is one excellent example. As the article referenced above states about one journey into ITIL;

… didn’t invest in a new tool until nearly three years into its ITIL initiative,

It is not all or nothing.

People, process then finally tools.

They built their methodology in bite sized pieces, then started looking at service management software tools to help them.

Not the other way around.

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