I try to avoid lower level stuff on this blog, but this has been a support issue for me several times in just the last few months, so I’m going to break my rule.

The Scenario:

Your co-worker e-mails you a new proposal attached to it for your review, you open the email and then you save that proposal into your windows My Documents folder.

After you save it? Well, that is when the headache starts.

Perhaps you try and copy that proposal to your server, or maybe you just want to modify it, maybe insert a new table or image. What happens? your proposal blows up, says it can’t find the image you are trying to insert, maybe an error message says something about a zero byte file, or if you are really lucky it gives you a message that the file name is too long (usually in cryptic language)

For arguments sake, lets assume that the name of your proposal document is;

ACME Consulting and Implementation Proposal Version 1 April 30 2010.doc

What is a File Name?

First? I tell you that your file name cannot be longer than about 255 characters.

You carefully count the letters on our sample ACME proposal and tell me I am out of my mind because: hey that is only 71characters! not even close to 255!

Sorry! But that is not correct.

The hidden background of file paths and file names

Microsoft Windows computers and servers limit the full file name, and path to that name to approximately 255 characters, that includes letters, numbers, and spaces. But in many cases you can start getting erratic behavior when you start getting beyond about 180 characters.

But here is the tricky part.

In the Windows environment, a file name is unique and also includes the full path that leads to the location of the file.

And what is this path?

The path is defined as the levels you need to travel through various folders to get to a unique document, each of those folders defines that path. And in some cases, those folders (or directories) are actually hidden from you by default.

Using our ACME sample, If you saved document in your My Documents folder?

On a Microsoft Windows XP computer, the full path to your proposal is actually;

C:\Documents and Settings\name.domain\My Documents\ACME Consulting and Implementation Proposal Version 1 April 30 2010.doc

Count the number of characters again – we have already reached 122 of them!

Now lets assume that you keep everything neatly organized by having neat sub-folders in your My Documents, lets say that the first folder is All Customer Proposals, then under that one is an alphabetical list of your clients including a folder for ACME Corporation.

What is our ACME Proposal now?

C:\Documents and Settings\name.domain\My Documents\All Customer Proposals\ACME Corporation\ACME Consulting and Implementation Proposal Version 1 April 30 2010.doc

You got it – we are now at 162 characters! And getting very close to the danger zone!

OK, you say you put all your work on your company server?

Same thing.

Lets assume your server has your proposal in the Project teams area, looking something like this;

M:\Project Team\Project Proposals\2010-2011 Projects\ACME Corporation\Finance Department\ACME Consulting and Implementation Proposal Version 1 April 30 2010.doc

160 characters -again, danger zone!

The SMB IT Takeaway

Take a look at the conventions, or rules that govern where you place your documents, and what names you give your documents to avoid full path names that are too long.

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When IT Abuses Trust

April 23, 2010

IT Theft

You follow every good practice in the book to ensure that your data is secure from prying eyes and security threats.

Then you find out the prying eyes are your IT staff.

Here is another incident reported by Mike Schaffner in this post titled; Keeping Data Safe From IT Snoops

Let me be clear: It is theft. And I am sure it happens more often than we realize.

Larger SME’s, you must play with the big kids on this one. Create, implement, monitor and audit your network and physical security policies.

For smaller organizations it can be harder due to lack of resources. But it is not impossible.

Along with some of the tips in the above article, I have some more in this post titled: IT And Ethics

Photo Credit  Kiwi-Lomo via flickr

Offer Me Alternatives!

April 22, 2010

I am guessing you will agree that for many business technology staff?

Well, they have a great big hammer that is a particular technology skill set, so to them everything looks like a bloody big nail.

They can tie 10 different technologies into complex knots that may not mean a damn thing.

As a general manager in the small to medium enterprise, you have only a problem to be solved.

You should not be worrying about what type of hammer to hit it with.

When they are providing a recommendation, ensure that your IT leadership provides the context, goals and explicit plans that are in that recommendation.

To quote American rockers R.E.M; Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives!

What is the exact plan of action that your technology leadership is recommending? And most importantly what are the other options considered?

Is this recommendation meeting a strategic goal, or is it just because this recommendation uses their biggest, baddest and favourite hammer?

Is it necessary to use a sledge hammer? or would you reduce risk through a simpler solution that may only need a small finishing hammer?

The SMB Takeaway

Your IT leadership should leave their ego (and hammer) at the door.

Technology for its own sake is useless. The business problem to be solved could just require a screwdriver.

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Photo Credit Noel C. Hankamer via flickr

Too many business technology staff have a disease. Maybe you have seen it?

This shoot first and ask questions later is only a significant symptom, but let me back up first.

All business has a value chain. This value chain is the set of activities in your organization that produce the product or service that is actually delivered to your customers.

If you prefer to think in the concept of Open Systems, we can state that your business does not operate in a vacuum. Inputs, manipulation and outputs are required to physically get your product or service delivered.

And in many businesses, there is one common link that can help tie together each of those inputs and outputs;

Technology

Technology support in your business is not just data entry. In many cases creative knowledge workers can utilize technology based processes to reduce the friction that slows communication between the pieces of your value chain. By reducing friction, I mean reducing the gaps and time lost between individual steps.

As an example? a graphic artist creates material that has to go to print, but the individual that has to give the final approval forgets, so while the work is done, it is stuck in a crack, or gap of your internal value chain. These gaps are the common area where your IT can help streamline your internal processes.

That Technology Value Chain

I am going to break a rule here and temporarily extract your IT function out of your business – just like a schematic diagram.

If you could view your IT service in this way, you would see all the points where your IT  touches and connects to the various business processes you operate.

So let me argue that IT is a type of internal value chain for your organization – any change to those touch points that connect other points  will affect others. It will affect them through change, or it will affect them when they can’t get their job done because something is not working.

This Chain?

Technologists in the SME space must understand that IT does not exist in a vacuum. Nothing is discrete, you cannot just separate it like this simple schematic.

Everything that is done will positively or negatively impact the daily life and performance of somebody else. (And usually many someone else’s.)

And that is the problem

This shoot first,ask questions later in SME IT is a disease. Too many technologists never think of the impact that their decisions will have on others.

You can recognize the symptoms of this disease in many ways.

On symptom of this disease I call  pop-a-clickaitis. Which is the tendency to think that if you click enough times, in enough places, stopping  this or starting that, add in reboot as much as possible, that things will magically work out better. It won’t. At most people have been kicked out of whatever work they were in.

Another significant symptom of the shoot first disease?

An attitude in technologists – that says; “hey do it anyway , if something breaks, we will fix it afterward”

So what we have hear is ‘who cares about peoples work!

The SMB Takeaway

This shoot first tendency in many technologists is a self inflicted wound.

Ensure that it is eradicated in your shop

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The title Slaying Zombie Servers from ChannelPro may be quirky, but the problem can be rampant in larger SME’s.

..about 4.7 million servers are not doing useful work. Here’s how to keep them from sucking the life out of your clients’ budgets.

In larger SME’s over time servers creep into your environment. They can start by appearing under desks, or they can arrive by a tool you purchased years ago that no body uses any more.

But over time, you get this result, where complexity is killing you.

You can get updates to this blog by clicking the RSS icon on the Home Page!

Do you have a front line workhorse toiling away in your organization? Most of us do.

Whatever their title, or wherever they may be in the organizational chart, that he or she is the go to person in many businesses.

Think of that experience! Think of all the details they know about what really happens in your organization!

And now he or she is leaving.

This scenario is happening right now in a friends organization. In this case, that go to person was in customer service, and now she is retiring.

Being the face of that businesses customer service department, it may not have been daily, but frequently she bore the brunt of dissatisfied customers.

And Technology?

I know, you are asking where am I going with this!

But I see two things that many small to medium businesses often overlook when it comes to their customer service teams.

First, Looking Outside Your Walls

Your customer service teams have to deal with dissatisfied customers, that is a given; But what did you do to reduce that dissatisfaction?

We already know that no matter how we wish for perfect customer satisfaction, all day, every day, that is probably an unreasonable expectation. There will always be someone who is dissatisfied. Customers can be dissatisfied because the product or service did not truly meet their needs.

And finally, the biggies; dissatisfaction can occur if customers are not aware of, or don’t know about certain constraints with your product or service, or because they could not understand something.

As an example, consider that customers who purchased high definition television sets report being dissatisfied because they were not aware that to get the full benefit, they have to have high definition compatible services and devices from their regional cable or satellite television provider.

So during the 20 year tenure of your go to customer service individual, have you tracked the issues that they have been dealing with? Are there common refrains that you could have avoided by placing frequently asked questions on your web site?

Then, Inside your walls

Are you collecting information to learn?

During those 20 years of customer service calls, did you actively document them?

Did you look for broad themes that could drive improvements to your product or service? If you received the same complaint multiple times, don’t you think there might be something to learn from?

There is an old saying.

If one man calls you a horses ass. Ignore him.

If two men call you a horses ass. Think about it.

If three men call you a horses ass. Buy yourself a saddle.

Are You Learning?

Photo credit neoporcupine via flickr

A sales representative does a cold call drop in visit to my office.

Sales Rep: Well thanks for your time, I will get back to you with some material

Me: Thanks, you can reach me with this contact info

Sales Rep: How come your staff are walking around in socks? You do yoga here or something?

Me: Yoga??? No, they are software developers.

Like “Land-Rover” or “Harley-Davidson” Well, if you have to ask, you will never understand….

Just Sayin’