Outsourcing Your IT

squeeze with orangeWhen it comes to technology, it’s hard to do it all yourself. However, it can be expensive to outsource everything, and sometimes vendors just don’t know enough about your company to do what you need. What are the best tech tasks to hand off?

Computer Support

Help desk services are easy to outsource, although not all help desk providers are willing to support software applications outside of Microsoft Office. They will do a fine job with Windows issues like printing, virus removal, Internet browser issues, Word and Excel questions, and other general errors. If most of your software applications are web-based, this may be more than enough to meet your routine support needs.

If you run critical software applications in-house, or specialized software like AutoCAD, you may need a company that can provide more customized support. You’ll have to interview providers carefully to determine which ones are willing to invest time in learning and documenting the software you run, so that they can answer whatever questions arise. Alternatively, you may have separate support contracts with each software vendor. In that case, your staff calls the help desk vendor for general questions, and they call the software vendor for issues specific to the software. Occasionally it will be unclear where the issue lies, so your team may need assistance managing the vendors to ensure their problems are resolved.

You’ll also need onsite support to address computer hardware issues. This can often be done in-house by someone with a moderate level of technology expertise. However it is also quite easy to outsource this to someone who is expert. It’s just a matter of determining which is the better fit and value for your needs.

Network and Server Support

While PC support is often fairly straightforward, network and server management require greater skill and more experience. These activities should be outsourced. What many companies do is hire a tech company that can manage the infrastructure that they already have in place, both remotely and onsite. They also typically handle network security, which includes PC level applications like anti-virus and anti-malware.

Be sure to consider outsourced alternatives like colocation and cloud hosting. Colocation means that your servers are housed in a data center instead of your office, and your office is networked directly to them. Typically you own the hardware in a colocation scenario. Cloud hosting costs more than colocation, but you don’t need to buy any hardware at all. You simply “rent” server processing power. Again, your office is networked directly to the cloud servers that you set up. Keep in mind that with both these options, you’ll still need some assistance in your office with network setup.

Email

Email is incredibly easy to outsource. Microsoft used to offer Exchange, their email platform, as part of Small Business Server. They no longer do that and are encouraging companies to move to their Office365 service instead. It is a very reliable and cost effective choice. If you prefer not to use Microsoft, there are other hosted Exchange email providers.

Nearly every web hosting company offers hosted “POP” email. That is a low-cost email option but it doesn’t work as smoothly as hosted Exchange email.

Business Application Software

You will almost always turn to a third party when it comes to business software. There is rarely a case where it is cost effective to write software yourself. Take care to choose a good vendor, because it can be extremely difficult to change software providers once you’ve gotten set up. Make sure the company is financially stable, has a strong support team, releases regular updates, and – of course – has software that closely fits your business needs.

Once you’ve started using a software package, you need someone who knows exactly how it is set up for your company: the options that have been selected, reports that are available, business processes it supports, etc. That person will typically handle new user setups, security, process changes, report updates, and training. The role can be filled by a consultant, but this person must know your business well. For that reason, you may prefer to keep this role internal to your company. Just make sure you have someone tech-savvy in charge, and send them to plenty of training so that they have the knowledge and skills they need to handle this role effectively.

Websites

There are thousands of do-it-yourself websites available, but doing it yourself isn’t always the best choice. Many business owners “don’t know what they don’t know” and end up with unprofessional and ineffective websites in an effort to save money. A good quality website created by a professional design firm will ensure that your company is well represented online.

Once your website is built, there is ongoing work to keep it fresh and up-to-date. Ask your web design company to provide “content management” features so that you can make these basic updates yourself.

If social media is part of your online marketing strategy, take a close look at whether it should be outsourced or kept internal. Either can work. The key here is that social media requires constant attention and frequent updates to be effective.

Security and Regulatory Compliance

Any business subject to regulatory compliance requirements (HIPAA, SOX, PCI, FISMA, etc.) should engage outside consultants to test their security on a regular basis. Specialized security firms can run security audits and penetration tests. They will be up-to-date on the latest requirements and can help protect your company from liability.

Making Final Decisions

In a nutshell, you want to hand off the activities where advanced technical knowledge is required, and/or where services are so standard that there’s not much business-specific knowledge needed. Use employees when in-depth knowledge of your business really makes a big difference. Plan to train your vendors on your business-specific needs; plan to train your team on the technology tools they will use. Whichever way you go, focus on clearly communicating your needs so that you get the best possible IT experience.

 

Work should be fun

wendyheadshot2crop

During my Price Waterhouse days, I was privileged to work with many talented people, and some incredibly gifted managers. Nonetheless, to this day, one truly exceptional management team stands out above all others, where both the client manager and our own were incredibly gifted.

I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.

~ Thomas Edison

What I remember most vividly is an early project meeting where our client manager talked about key goals for the project. One of those—to my great surprise—was that we have fun. Given how hard I usually worked, this seemed like a pretty radical concept, very un-business-like. But you know what? We did have fun, loads of it. Somehow all this fun brought us closer together as a team, and it made us incredibly productive, too.

As a business owner, it’s easy to focus on metrics. Billable hours, utilization, ticket volume, actuals vs. budget, etc. Those are important, but I’ve noticed that they all improve dramatically when the team is happy and work well together.

I’d like to propose a new business metric: team fun quotient, which would be the total fun had by all divided by the effort it takes to make work fun. Then we can track and trend happiness levels as well as what activities have the most and best impact. Sometimes even the smallest gestures can make a huge impact, and if we’re going to be smart managers, we need to pay attention to how we can build a great environment for our staff.

The only thing I can’t figure out: how do you measure fun? Send me your ideas and I’ll send you a fun toy!

 

wendysig

 

3 “Gotchas” Most IT Pros Won’t Tell You When Selling You Their Cloud Solution

Are you using any cloud applications to store data?

Then listen up!

There are a few “gotchas” you need to know about 3rd-party cloud apps that most sales reps will NEVER tell you.

  1. They aren’t responsible for keeping a backup of your data. If you read the small print of your contract, you’ll see that in every way possible, your cloud provider is NOT responsible for data loss or backups – even if it’s their fault. In fact, Office365 will only keep 3 days backup of your data; so if you delete or overwrite a file and don’t notice it until 4-5 days later, it’s GONE. If your data is important, you need to implement a backup solution that works with cloud applications.
  2. What you see may NOT be what you get. There’s nothing more frustrating than an incredibly slow application when you’re trying to work; and the salesperson demo’ing the application or platform is going to make sure you only see the BEST-case scenarios for performance. But there are a lot of things that can determine how fast your cloud applications run, such as the file size you’re working on, CPUs and RAM and storage, time of day, day of the week, your Internet connection and the number of users accessing the application. Make sure you get some verification of the speed in YOUR specific environment before spending a lot of money, time and aggravation moving to a new cloud application.
  3. What if they cancel you? Here’s a scary situation: what if your cloud provider decides to shut down your account because they go out of business or simply decide not to service you anymore? Or what if YOU want out? Make sure you have in writing what happens if YOU cancel your contract AND what your cloud provider can and cannot do if they go out of business, cancel your account or have any other issues that would cause service interruption. Moving a network from a cloud platform is NOT a simple task and you need to make sure you can get your data and that you’ll be given sufficient time to make the transition.

Need help interpreting any of these scenarios?

CIO has “gotcha” covered!

Give us a call at 314-414-8400.

We will help you put in place a solid “Plan B” for any of the above issues, so you never have to worry about your 3rd party cloud applications saying “gotcha, too late.”

 

 

Fresh-Picked Gadget the Infinite USB

Picture2

As laptops grow thinner, USB ports become scarcer. InfiniteUSB cables allow you to plug multiple devices into one USB port. Starting at $10, and available in varieties that also support microUSB and Lightning connectors.

Want to see these gadgets in real life? Come visit our “gadget grove” of tech toys you can try out yourself.

 

 

Conscious Business: How to Build Value through Values

 

Conscious Business: How to Build Value through ValuesPicture1

By Fred Kofman

Consciousness is the main source of organizational greatness. Conscious business, means finding your passion and expressing your essential values through your work.  A conscious business seeks to promote the intelligent pursuit of happiness in all its stakeholders.

 

 

 

Get More from Your Technology: Train Your Team

One of the keys to success for any new software rollout is training for your team. It is also one of the most commonly missed steps. Why invest in new technology and fail to show your team how to use it? Software vendors may claim their applications are intuitive and easy to use, but your staff will still need training to understand how these new tools impact their day-to-day work. Without that, you’ll never realize the full benefits of your new technology.

Of course, training is not limited to technology. In fact, technology now enables you to provide world-class training resources to your team on nearly any business topic you can imagine. Here are some ideas to get your team on the road to success.

Software Application Training

Most software applications offer online training. When you select new software programs, training should be a critical part of your assessment, as quality training programs can make a huge difference in the success of your project.

Options vary by vendor, but most offer an online training portal. Contents may include videos, demonstrations, online tests, and downloadable user guides. The best portals allow you to select a curriculum, assign it to individual team members, and track progress as they complete their training program.

Even if you already have software in place that you’ve been using for some time, it’s worth reviewing whether your team could use additional training. Maybe they could use a refresher, maybe there are new features, or maybe there is more they could do with what you already have. Don’t assume that everyone is already making the most of your software just because they’ve been using it a long time.

Microsoft

Microsoft offers a variety of free and paid online training. Nearly everyone in business uses Microsoft Office, and undoubtedly there are tips and tricks that could improve your team’s productivity. Visit https://support.office.com for their Office support portal, which includes how-tos, troubleshooting tips, and training videos and tutorials.

Lynda.com

For more in-depth training on many commonly-used software program in business, including even more resources for Microsoft Office, check out http://lynda.com. Their affordable subscriptions give you on-demand access to thousands of training programs. The more people you train, the lower the cost per person. Their training includes popular programs from Microsoft, Adobe, ACT!, Google, QuickBooks, and many more. There is something for everyone here.

Learning Management Systems

Sometimes you need training about non-technology topics, but technology can still play a key role. Check out a category of software known as “Learning Management Systems” (LMS for short). These products track your team, their training assignments, and their progress towards completion. Some LMSs offer canned training on general business topics, which will get you started. With others, you can create your own online training using their presentation tools. It’s just a matter of determining what features will serve your company best. The real advantage of programs like these is that to use them, you have to think through your team’s training needs and create a plan for them. Training becomes a routine part of their work instead of a “nice to have” that never gets done.

Training Libraries

Some LMS providers, like SkillSoft and SumTotal, stand out above the rest for their huge library of business-related training topics. They have training classes on technology topics as well as a full gamut of business skills. Need to train your financial people? Select the accounting curriculum. Want to help your managers become better leaders? Assign them to communications and management training courses. Are you focused on customer service? Pick a few classes on delivering an amazing customer experience. Subscriptions to these tools are not cheap, but if you make good use of them and require your staff to take appropriate coursework, the investment can have a huge payoff.

Online Education

Visit http://www.edx.org, for an amazing array of world-class college courses. Founded by Harvard and MIT, this website publishes online courses from top universities around the world. All classes are free, and there are hundreds of choices. Sign up key members of your team for top-notch business school classes, or find coursework in your industry (architecture, engineering, etc.) to keep your people up-to-date on the latest ideas.

TED Talks

Another incredible online resource are the well-known TED Talks, at http://www.ted.com. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, began over 30 years ago as a way to spread great ideas. Talks are usually 10-20 minutes long and cover a wide range of topics. You are sure to find something relevant to your business. These can be great motivational topics to share with your team. Pick a relevant topic, watch it together, and spend time after debriefing how it applies to your business. This can spur creative thinking and generate fresh new ideas.

How to Plan a Successful Training Rollout

One of the surest ways to fail at a training rollout is to point people at a training website and tell them to go get trained. It will never hit the top of their priority list, and that means it will never get done.

In order to get results, create a well-defined training plan. If you are using a Learning Management System, you can create the plan inside the LMS and then easily track your team’s progress. However, for small teams you can do something as simple as an Excel workbook. The elements of a training plan include course assignments by person, duration of each course, and schedule/deadline for completion. Some courses will apply to your entire team; you’ll assign other by role and skill level. Be sure to allocate time in their day to take the training classes, instead of piling it on top of an already full schedule. Be realistic about the time needed and how it fits in with the rest of their work. It takes time and dedication to make this happen, but you will be amazed at how your people flourish when you demonstrate commitment to helping them grow.

 

 

Join Our Team!

logo_CMYK_transparentJoin our team! We handle computer and network support, serving as an outsourced IT department for our small to midsized business clients in the St. Louis area. Are you a solutions oriented, innovative thinker? A team player who has a “whatever it takes” attitude?
We’re a friendly, fast-growing company with a collaborative, team-focused culture, and we take great pride in contributing to our clients’ success. Are you ready to join our team?

Apply HERE
Dedicated Field Engineer- Tier 2 Support

This position will be a dedicated resource for one of our clients, working from our office and still very much a part of our team here at CIO. Most of the work will be done by phone, however there will be occasional travel required, averaging one week per quarter. You must be equally comfortable in person and on the phone with executive level clients, and extremely professional and quick on your feet. This position is not a management role, but there will be a leadership element as the communications lead for this client. You must exhibit an intermediate degree of technical knowledge that can be applied to this customer’s technical issues and problems. Moreover, as the primary support for the client desktops, printers and infrastructure, you will be responsible for resolving issues with the support of our team as necessary. By providing exceptional service delivery, you will secure the company’s positive reputation with this client. We will rely on you to perform service and preventive maintenance activities on products, and assist in installations and deployments.

Responsibilities:

  • Work independently to answer service desk calls, urgently analyze technical issue(s), troubleshoot over the phone and via remote log-in, and escalate problems to Level 3 support when appropriate.
  • Provide onsite and remote desktop support to our clients who have critical response time requirements for their business technology systems.
  • Troubleshoot, diagnose and resolve all hardware configuration, application software, security, firmware and connectivity issues at the desktop level.
  • Troubleshoot, diagnose and resolve all wireless configuration and connectivity issues.
  • Troubleshoot, diagnose and resolve issues with smartphones and tablets, such as iPhone, or Android.
  • Propose and successfully implement process improvements.
  • Provide problem resolution and Trouble Ticket responsiveness at the local Help Desk.
  • Multi-task to support a variety of network and end-user environments with executives, business owners, managers and end users.
  • Demonstrate superior communication skills to respond to diverse clients with urgent needs while recognizing they are looking for solutions, not technical explanations.

Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Information Technology, Business Technology, related field of study or equivalent work experience (minimum 4 years experience working in similar role).
  • Experience working in a managed services organization preferred but not required.
  • Microsoft MCP, Comptia Network+ and/or Comptia A+ certifications are a plus!
  • Microsoft certification is highly desired as we are a Microsoft partner.
  • Certifications or extended work histories may be substituted for the educational requirement in some situations.
  • Proficiency in supporting Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.
  • High Proficiency in Word, Excel, and Outlook.
  • Knowledgeable of desktop software such as Microsoft Office Suite.
  • Basic server support skills and understanding of Windows 2003, 2008 and 2012.
  • Networks, internet connection issues, as well as be able to configure network devices such as routers.
  • Basic desktop VPN connectivity troubleshooting and configuration (Cisco, Sonicwall, OpenVPN).
  • Security software such as Anti-virus, Anti-SPAM, Anti-Spyware, and other security related technologies.
  • Ability to adapt to an ever changing environment.
  • Ability to solve practical problems and deal with a variety of situations; ability to interpret a variety of instructions.
  • Deadline and solutions oriented with the ability to handle multiple competing priorities; wide variety of responsibilities means you’ll never be bored!
  • Team player who can roll up their sleeves and get involved in everything from big projects to mundane, simple tasks – A true go-getter!
  • Not easily frazzled and strong time-management skills during busy and slower periods throughout the day.
  • Valid driver’s license and proof of insurance.

This position does require Engineers to be part of an on-call rotation to handle basic triage and network emergencies for a one week duration usually once every month and a half for each Engineer. This position will require travel averaging one week per quarter.

Benefits:
We value our employees’ time and efforts. Our commitment to your success is enhanced by our competitive compensation and an extensive benefits package including paid time off, medical, dental and vision benefits and future growth opportunities within the company. Plus, we work to maintain the best possible environment for our employees, where people can learn and grow with the company. We strive to provide a collaborative, creative environment where each person feels encouraged to contribute to our processes, decisions, planning and culture.