I have written before about the risk of taking shortcuts.

I want to revisit this to give an example of how not taking the extra 30 seconds to do something right the first time can add hours of extra work later on.

This scenario is true by the way!

Lets imagine that your company name is ACME Building Corporation Inc.

Lets also imagine that your domain name and web address is http://www.acmebuilding.com – seems simple enough right?

Now lets imagine that it is a few years later, you have been growing and it has reached the time where you want to add a secure Web Mail server for your remote people, or perhaps you want to add the ability for people to shop on line at your website.

The most common way to add this type of security is to add SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) security technology to your website. This technology is what gives that little lock on your web browser to confirm that the website you are visiting is indeed who they say they are, and to assist in keeping data transfers secure.

To get this SSL technology, you need to request a certificate, the company providing the certificate makes some checks to ensure that the website you want to secure is legally yours, and you get one of these certificates. Again – not overly difficult.

So! step one, you go through the process to request the SSL certificate – Then step two? you find that whomever first registered your company name on the interwebs for that http://www.acmebuilding.com domain, was too lazy to register it to your complete company name; ACME Building Corporation Inc.

They cheated, and took the shortcut of registering it as being owned by the shortened ABCInc.

Since that shortcut of ABCInc is not your registered business name, you cannot add that SSL certificate until you get that company name fixed. In our case we had to create a new company record and actually transfer the domain ownership to what should have been our name in the first place.

As a note, this could also happen if you had a supplier register your domain name under their business name. By this I mean that your acmebuilding.com domain was created and owned by Shay-Dee Web Design Corporation.

The SMB Takeaway

Take the 30 seconds to do it right, the first time.

And a reminder, if you had someone else set you up on the web – make sure it is your name as owner – not theirs.

Tell you what – I am going to build you a new house!

Now, we are all human, when I say that phrase I am confident that one of the following visions crossed your mind;

a) You saw your current place, the one you have,  it is already perfect – just the way it is now.

b) the dream house you would love to have, that perfect idea of the future

c) or possibly, that worst one you ever had – the place you don’t want to go back to.

With no further information than;  I am going to build you a new house! we fill in our own desires, we fill in our own perceptions and expectations.

Now the twist

I am not going to tell you where this house is, I am not going to tell you what it will look like, and I most definitely will not tell you what it will cost you!

(But I promise to let you see it when I finish!)

Does that sound just a little strange to you?

Unless this is a charity such as Habitat for Humanity, I don’t think most of us would be to keen on that idea.

Think about it!

No idea what the end result will be.

No idea what it will cost you.

And no idea if it even meets your needs!

Yet in business IT we do this all the time!

Michael Krigsman writing at ZDNet has this article titled; IT failure and collaboration: Ten big symptoms
Now look at this quote;

More simply, many projects fail because participants and stakeholders are not on the same page regarding shared goals and expectations.

Now Mr. Krigsman writes for the larger enterprise, but let me tell you bluntly, in the small to mid-market business we are often worse at building our IT houses than larger enterprises.

Most larger enterprises do have methodologies, processes and various governance procedures that try to remove this mismatch in communications and expectations.

And I fully grant that these methodologies may be broken, they may need improvements, and they may need better execution, but they exist.

In the SME, we often do not even have the basics. These methodologies and processes and governance structures don’t exist.In fact in many small to mid-market businesses, there is not even a formalized project management structure.

An Example

I spoke to the COO (Chief Operating Officer) of a SME who was implementing a particular enterprise software package (ERP)

That was it!

No questions or answers on whether this IT house was a 6 bedroom McMansion, when all they needed was a 3 bedroom bungalow

No questions or answers on whether this IT house was rural, urban or inner city.

You get the idea.

From this point forward, the IT leadership will be carrying the ball to implement something that I will bet you a paycheck that no one will be happy with.

I say no one, because each officer in that company is going to have an their own internal perception and expectations;

a) that this is going to work for them, their way, (their dream house) or

b) that it won’t work at all – my house is fine the way it is (yes expectations can be negative)

When there is no discussion on the requirements and expectations, the only data that we as humans can mentally process is what fits our experience and knowledge.

If you have not set the requirements and expectations, and set those expectations clearly – any technology investment is little better than a crap shoot.

Because with no further frame of reference, we all will fill in the blanks with our own perceptions, with our own expectations.

Just like my house example, if 100 people see this post, there will probably be close to 100 different internal perceptions and expectations on what that house would be.

So what do you think my odds of meeting those 100 different expectations?

Your IT won’t be any different.

Oh yes, here is your house – did it match your expectations?

Manage Expectations

Photo Credit Aaron Landry via flickr

In many businesses, the importance of IT, just like that of your plumbing, can only be truly appreciated when it stops working.

However, in most cases there were signs that failure is just around the corner.

You miss these warnings when you do not take a holistic view of your IT services.

All the time.

Not just when something has broken and people’s work grinds to a halt.

Broken Plumbing

Photo Credit TumbleCow_old via flickr

If the power goes out?UPS- Protect From Power Surges!

Computers, servers, even your phone system dies.

Most small business are aware that having those little backup batteries called a UPS can keep things running for at least a short while if you lose power.

However, in many cases, we underestimate the benefit that these little things provide. So a common argument? if the power goes out for a bit, it will come back anyway. And if it is out too long that UPS battery won’t help for more than a few minutes, so why bother?

That is a perfectly logical, and a perfectly correct argument.

But let me tell you why those Uninterruptible Power Supplies are absolutely mandatory in your business

A question; how much did you spend on your phone system PBX?

OK, how about the dollar value of the servers, and the data on all your servers?

Forget Power Failure – How About…..

A quick story, I briefly lost power in my office this week.  Sounds simple enough – But……

It was not that the power failed.

It was that an electrical surge hit the building that overloaded and blew breakers.

And guess what.

The surge was strong enough that it partially melted the battery in the UPS that protects our phone system.

Read that again. The battery was melted!

If that UPS had not been attached to my phone system, that power surge would have just melted the phone system.

Maybe a hundred dollars or so for the UPS, versus thousands for the PBX system.

Go ahead and flip a coin.

In this case you lose with heads or tails.

The SMB Takeaway

Add uninterruptible power supplies to your must do first thing Monday morning list.

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Photo Credit oskay via flickr

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.

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

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.

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