Monday, June 27, 2011

Will Microsoft Do Right By Their Partners? Office 365 Announcement June 28

Tuesday, June 28, Microsoft is going to unveil their new Office 365 program. Since their Office/BPOS program has been extremely unfriendly to their partners, I hope the rumors about this announcement are true.

The rumor is that Microsoft will stop trying to steal our clients, dramatically reduce our revenues, and turn us into competitors.


Background:

For a couple of years now, Microsoft has worked really hard to sell directly to end users and remove their "partners" from the business of selling software. Office "Live" has been a way to remove huge amounts of money from our pockets while selling directly to our customers.

Over and over I have been asked why I don't sell or push Microsoft's "Live" version of Office. The answer has two very simple components.

Reason #1: Revenue. With Office 365 I have been offered a whopping 6% times THREE years. This is on a $6/user license. That's $0.36 per month, or $4.32 per year. Every year. Year after year.

Personally, I have to compare that to the open license for Office Pro, on which I make about $100 profit. That's more than 23 Years worth of profit on one office license.

Reason #2: Owning the Relationship When I sell Office Licenses (Open or even OEM), I "own" the client. That means I ding the credit card. I deal with issues. I am the one they call. And when it's time to buy more, they come to me.

With BPOS and all of Microsoft's online services so far, Microsoft owns the client. They ding the credit card. If the partner changes, goes away, or just becomes an annoyance, then Microsoft continues their direct relationship with the client. We get our money on the back end at some point in the future.

Here's the official promotion for the announcement:

    Microsoft Office Division to Make Announcement
    June 20, 2011
    Steve Ballmer will announce news detailing the latest on Office 365 on Tuesday, June 28, at 10 a.m. EDT / 7 a.m. PDT. Watch the webcast here.

    - - - - -
    Office 365 Announcement Coming June 28
    Dear Partner,

    On Tuesday, June 28, 10-11 a.m. EDT, the Microsoft Office Division will release news detailing the latest on Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft's next-generation cloud service.

    Office 365 is the culmination of more than 20 years of experience delivering world class productivity solutions to people and businesses of all sizes. It brings together Office, SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync in an always-up-to-date cloud service. Learn more about Office 365 on the Microsoft Partner Network.

    Call to Action(s):
    Join the Virtual Event on Tuesday, June 28th from 10-11 a.m. EDT
    Join live via webcast at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/presskits/office/online/Default.aspx

No one seems to want to admit it publicly, but I think the MS Office team has had a real uphill battle for the last few years. I suspect that adoption has been much lower than they expected. In addition, I think MS leadership wants to have a clear "WIN" in cloud services -- and so far they don't have a single thing to point to.

Direct sales are probably going well. But partners aren't stupid, so they'll continue to make $80-100 per license rather than a few pennies. And partners aren't stupid, so they will jealously guard the client relationships on which they've built their businesses, rather than simply hand them over to Microsoft.

- - - - -

Stay tuned.

Mr. Steve Ballmer himself will be on this announcement.

And I hope the message is clear:

- You will be able to sell Office 365 (BPOS) through the licensing channel

- You will be able to decide the price at which you sell it to your clients

- YOU will own the relationship and Microsoft will not have a direct relationship with the client

Unfortunately, I also believe that your margin will be gone forever. Today the price is at $6/month. A few months ago it was $10. It will continue to go down, down, down. So even if you can maintain a 15-20% margin, it will be 15-20% of nothing.

One way or another, you won't be much of a partner.

:-)

Friday, June 24, 2011

SOP Friday: Used Equipment and Warranties

Some lessons we learn again and again - until we're tired of being bit in the butt!

Over time, most technicians come around to accepting that you should only sell new equipment and you should encourage every client to keep a warranty on all hardware (and a Maintenance agreement on all software).

These seem like different topics, but they're very much related to one another, and to your profit.


SOP Friday: Used Equipment and Warranties

- Overview -

As techno-goobers, we tend to have boxes filled with old network cards, modems, video cards, memory, hard drives, and all the juicy goodness that makes computers fun. We sometimes grab one of these devices and throw it into a computer. For fun. For troubleshooting. Cuz we're nerds.

And that's fine for US, in our shop, with our computers. But client systems are another story altogether.

There are extreme rare exceptions, but as a general rule You should never install used equipment in any client system.

If you waste four hours of your time finding drivers for an NE2000 compatible NIC on your Windows 7 box, that's just good fun. If you blow out the hard drive or have to set the O.S. back to a previous restore point, that's part of game.

But if you do these things at a client's office, 1) You look like an idiot, and 2) You're losing money. I've said it before, but let me be very clear: You have to decide whether this is your hobby or a business. If it's a business, you can easily put yourself in the position of never selling used equipment. Just don't do it.

Every once in awhile we come across an old video card (or nic or sound card or whatever) that just won't work. Can't find the reason. Can't find the drivers. Whatever the case may be: It won't work. Throw It Away!

The thing about used equipment is that most of it works most of the time. But the probability that it won't work goes up when a client is involved. Murphy goes along on that job every time. Just don't do it.

As with many decisions, you need to break it down to dollars and hours. A new video card is $50 plus your one hour minimum to install. Some old piece of junk might be $25 or "free" and take two hours labor to get right. Unless something goes wrong. Then it might be another two hours.

How much time will you spend to save $25? Your answer had better be less than 15 minutes. If you only charge $100/hour, then $25 = 15 minutes. Spending an extra hour to make old junk work is hardly ever worth it.

And if you're successful, you have an old piece of equipment without a warranty that cost almost as much as the new one.

Remember that you need to guard your time like the precious commodity it is. If you are completely successful with used equipment 90% of the time and only have problems ten percent of the time, you still have lost money. You are spinning your wheels on unproductive labor rather than engaged in delightful, interesting, billable work.

Warranties are a related topic. Let's just talk about hardware here and not maintenance agreements for business applications.

The key thing about a warranty is that you severely limit your exposure. When a problem arises, you call the manufacturer, then send a replacement, and you install it. Or, better yet, they install it. You manage that relationship. But they do as much work as possible.

Between diagnosis, dealing with warranty support, and installing new components, you can probably limit your time on a warranty replacement to one hour total in most cases.

New equipment, especially new equipment that ships with a three year warranty, is FAR less likely to have any problems. We actually cover the labor on equipment that's under warranty if the client bought it from us. The reason is simple: We almost never have to spend labor on new equipment under warranty, and it gives the client a strong sense that we're just taking care of stuff. Client like NOT getting additional bills.

We can only do this with new, warrantied equipment.


- Implementation Notes -

There are two pieces to this puzzle. One is an internal policy and one is in your service agreement.

The Internal Policy is simple:

    It is the policy of this company that we do not sell used equipment. This includes refurbished equipment. If a new component is delivered to a client and installed in a machine, that component belongs to the client and may not be removed and returned to stock for resale. It is used. We will only quote new hardware with a minimum of one year warranty.

The second piece goes in your managed service agreement. (If you need sample agreements, see Service Agreements for SMB Consultants.) Here's a place to start:

    Warranties. All equipment (network equipment, servers, printers, desktop computers, laptop computer, etc.) must be under an original manufacturer’s warranty, or some other similar warranty or extended service plan in order to be covered by this Agreement. Work performed on equipment that is not under warranty will not be covered under this Agreement. All such work will be billed according to the rates and terms of the Agreement.

    . . .

    Hardware Support: In addition to the maintenance of the operating system and software, above, Consultant agrees to provide hardware support for all equipment that is purchased from Consultant and covered under this Agreement, provided that such equipment is less than three years old and is under manufacturer’s warranty.

Note: I'm not an attorney. Have your service agreement reviewed by an attorney. I'm not responsible for anything you do. Blah, blah, blah.


- Benefits -

The primary benefit of this policy is that you will do a lot less work on hardware related items. To me that's a real benefit. Hardware work today is the least interesting part about this business.

Another benefit is that you'll make more money! Okay, that might be the primary benefit. :-)

You'll make money from warranties for three reasons. First, you'll sell good equipment that doesn't break. So you'll spend less labor fixing things after you've been paid. Second, you can make money on extended warranties. If clients want to keep old machines, they need to either pay for hardware fixes or pay for an extended warranty. Third, you will make money from work that's not covered by warranty.

Eventually, when machines become expensive to maintain (see last week's SOP), clients will decide to upgrade.

Overall, these policies will make computer maintenance a lot easier and more trouble-free. Clients should not be under the impression that computers and always a hassle and break down all the time. You can show them a brighter, more beautiful future!


- Forms -

See the sample policy statement above and the sample warranty language for your service agreements, above.

It is also helpful to keep track of the warranty status of machines in the Network Documentation Binder (see The Network Documentation Workbook or in your PSA (Autotask, ConnectWise, Tiger Paw).

When you have a service ticket that is for un-warrantied hardware, be sure to change it to be billable labor. In Autotask, you do this by attaching it to the "Billable Time and Materials" contract. Set the Issue Type to "Break/Fix - Hardware" and the Work Type a billable work type.


Your Comments Welcome.

:-)




Now Available:
Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations
Seminar on MP3 Download

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Connect Up With The SMB MVP Community Roadshow

My buddy Jeff Middleton and a bunch of the other amazing Microsoft MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) are teaming up with HP and Microsoft to visit 66+ cities in North America, Australia, and Europe in the months ahead.

The "Official" non-marketing video with Kevin Beares and Dana Epp is here on You-Tube:



The topics include:

- HP hardware (which totally rocks)
- SBS 2011
- SBS 2011 Essentials
- Midpoint Server*
- Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials

Jeff told me that his goal is to visit every I.T. Pro user group who asks to host an event. Each event will be a little different because they are being run by different Microsoft MVPs. But all of them will have great content based on the experiences of the various MVPs.

The tour was launched quietly a few weeks ago and will run through October 2011. And beyond, if Jeff has his way.

Cities that have already seen the tour include Vancouver and Cincinnati. Victoria will see it tonight.

Here are some links for you.

- SMB MVP Tour on Facebook

- SMB MVP Tour on Twitter

- SMB MVP Tour Official Site, sponsored by SBSMigration.com.

- and Overview of the SMB MVP Tour at SBSMigration.com.

Check it out. If you run an I.T. Pro user group, ping Jeff to request a stop on the big Roadshow. If you're a member of an I.T. Pro user group, make sure your leader's aware of this opportunity.

If you don't run a group or belong to one, ping me and I'll either help you find one or help you start one. :-)


* In case you haven't seen it, Midpoint Server is a Windows product targeted at educational institutions, for use in classrooms, labs and libraries. It allows multiple users to simultaneously share one computer. Essentially, it's a target terminal server environment designed for non-technical users.

Friday, June 17, 2011

SOP Friday: Nuking and Paving

There are extremely rare occasions when a computer needs to be "nuked and paved" - or completely reinstalled. Basically, a nuke and pave job is done for one of three reasons:

1. The technician is not able to fix the computer

2. There is a problem (e.g., a virus) that will take too many hours and is therefore not worth the cost

3. The problem cannot be fixed

When do you nuke and pave and when do you walk away?


SOP Friday: Nuking and Paving

- Overview -

The second option is completely a financial decision. If you have an old, slow PC running an old operating system, and it has a monster virus, you probably won't spend ten hours of labor trying to fix it. You shouldn't work for free, and the client doesn't want to pay $1,500 to fix a ten year old computer.

. . . unless it's the only machine in the office with a true RS-232 port and connects to their manufacturing system. Or the payroll computer the day before payroll. Or the last machine in the office that runs a critical piece of software.

Obviously you're going to do everything you can upgrade such machine, replace them, have contingencies, etc. But there just are some machines that have to be fixed, no matter what the cost.

For the average "old piece of junk" machine, however, you will nuke and pave because you can reinstall the O.S. and all software in 3-4 hours. The client might decide that they'd rather spend that 3-4 hours having you set up a new machine on the network. But, again, that's a financial decision.

It is really important that you have this discussion with a client before the machine dies (or is infected). It is hard to make a decision at the last minute. It's much easier if you can just look up the "Nuke and Pave Policy" for that client and refer to it.

"Mr. Client: As we discussed six months ago, the general policy is that we will not rebuild or spend more than three hours labor fixing up the machines with Windows XP. Are you still comfortable with that decision?"

Decisions made before the disaster are often more rational and can be a good starting point when there IS a problem.


A Note on Competency

Options 1 and 3 ("The technician is not able to fix the computer" vs. "The problem cannot be fixed") can be a tough call some times. Everyone seems to think that it's easy to be a computer tech. I guess this is because everyone can use a computer.

There are some computers that just can't be fixed. But the reality is that 99% of all problems can be fixed if you have the right skills and enough time (money) to spend on the problem. In practice, I would say that most competent technicians can fix 95% of all problems.

An incompetent technician (thinks he knows a lot, but doesn't really much) can probably fix 80% of all problems. The difference is pretty huge. Incompetent technicians therefore spend a lot more time nuking and paving because it's the blunt instrument they know will fix the problem.

These folks tend to say things like "Microsoft knows this is a problem. Everyone has this problem. There's nothing we can do about it."

Let's be honest: We all start out incompetent. Everything is difficult before it becomes easy. But once we decide we want to do something for a living, we have an obligation to educate ourselves and take it seriously.

It hurts all of us when incompetent technicians take on tasks they can't handle. Clients become suspicious. They view our profession as one step above used car salesmen. On some days, not above.

Therefore: I think it is in your best interest to minimize the number of Nuke and Pave jobs.

Ideally, in your business, the financial calculation of #2 above will be the most important determining factor in whether you'll fix a computer. If competence is the most important factor, then you need to start tackling some tougher jobs and learn how actually fix this stuff.

Nuke and Pave should be a last resort.


- Implementation Notes -

There are two policies to implement here.

First, your company should have a simple policy statement. One paragraph is good enough. It should state that your company policy is to avoid reinstalling the operating system as much as possible as a way to "fix" problems. It should then state a simple limit on how much time you will spend on a problem. For example:

    "It the policy of our company to avoid reinstalling the operating system as much as possible as a way to fix problems. But any technician who has worked on any problem for 60 minutes without making significant progress is required to seek assistance. This assistance might be from the service manager, a vendor, or an approved back office assistance service. In any case where a desktop service ticket has consumed three or more hours of labor, the service manager will decide how we will proceed."

Second, you need to help your clients adopt similar guidelines. How much time should be spent fixing various classes of computers? In some businesses, the "classes" would be operating systems - W7, Vista, XP, 2000, etc. In other businesses, it will be by department, such as sales, finance, etc.


- Benefits -

Whenever possible, the decision to nuke and pave a computer should be a business decision and a financial decision. You might really be able to fix 99% of problems instead of 95%, but if you lose money doing it, then you have to decide whether this is a hobby or a business.

As a business, you need to cut your losses. So many technicians are tempted to give away hours on long jobs. That just encourages the clients to never upgrade because it costs them nothing extra to keep old, crappy computers!

Eventually, this policy will help clients accept that it's cheaper in the long run to buy good equipment (and replace old equipment) than to fix up the old stuff.

The long-term effect for clients is a bunch of computers that work work better, are more efficient, and keep their employees working!

The more you can make decisions based on sound financial considerations, the more money you'll make.


- Forms -

There are no specific forms for implementing this SOP. You might write up a brief description of the procedure and put it into your SOP or binder.

This kind of policy requires that everyone on the team

1) Be aware of the policy

2) Practice the policy

3) Correct one another's errors

4) Support one another with reminders


Your Comments Welcome.

:-)




Don't miss the three-part webinar series

How To Make Money With the Intel Hybrid Cloud!

Part 1 of “Grow services revenue and reach new customers with the Intel AppUp Small Business Service and the Intel Hybrid Cloud program” is Posted Here.

Part 2 of “Making Money with the Intel Hybrid Cloud - Focus on hardware and software options” is Posted Here.

Part 3 - June 23, 2011 10AM Pacific - Register Now!

You can always find out more at www.cloudservicesroundtable.com

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Microsoft Windows Thin PC Available July 1st

(Thanks to Larry D. for the heads up on this one.)

For a long time we've had the "dream" that we can use old desktop PCs as thin clients. After all, why throw away a perfectly working Pentium machine with decent graphics just because the O.S. is old and it can't run any programs? :-)

The problem has been: that machine still needs maintenance. If it's Windows 2000, XP, or even Vista, it is old but usable. But it has an O.S. It needs updates. It needs to be secured. It needs anti-virus. And so forth.

So while a nice $400 thin client would be cool, it would also be nice to get some value out of that perfectly working old P.C.

Enter Microsoft Windows Thin PC (WinTPC). See the official site at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/enterprise/solutions/virtualization/products/thinpc.aspx.

The RTM announcement is here: http://windowsteamblog.com/windows/b/business/archive/2011/06/07/windows-thin-pc-rtms.aspx (That's the Windows Blog in case you want to add to your RSS feed).

One very good bit of news: You'll be able to access Citrix machines in addition to Windows RDP.

The Microsoft Windows Thin PC is basically a locked-down version of Windows. It works a LOT like the Windows Embedded version sold through HP, Wyse, and others for thin clients.

As Microsoft portrays it, the key benefits of this technology are:

1. Microsoft Windows Thin PC (WinTPC) enables customers to repurpose existing PCs as thin clients by providing a smaller footprint, locked down version of Windows 7.

2. Reduced End Point costs for VDI (virtual desktops)

3. Excellent Thin Client experience

4. Enterprise Ready platform (Windows 7)

I'm not going to register for the beta and download the "old" code at this point. But if you want to, you can do so at http://connect.microsoft.com.

I can wait 16 days.

:-)

Friday, June 10, 2011

SOP Friday: Approved Tools

Many people have a "wild west" view of the tools they use in their business. Their approach amounts to this: Hire good people and let them do their thing. That sounds great, but it has a few problems. I think it's much better to have a list of "Approved Tools" that are used in your business.

SOP Friday: Approved Tools

- Overview -

There is one very strong argument to be made for having an approved set of tools (software programs) that you use in your company: Standardization means higher profit, more predictability, and fewer problems.

The primary arguments against having a standard, well-defined set of tools are:
1) You might not have "the best" tool on your list
and
2) Things change fast, so the best tool might change, and then you won't be using it

Basically, these arguments represent fear that there's some "better" thing out there and you should be using it. Fine. You should have a process for evaluating and adding tools to your list. But you cannot simply let technicians use whatever they want.

The primary problem with letting technicians do whatever they want are:

1) You cannot reproduce the work. That means you can't properly troubleshoot if you don't know which tools are used. You can replicate problems. You can't replicate success!

2) The Internet is filled with spyware, viruses, and a LOT of really crappy, poorly-written homemade tools that you can download for free. Thanks to the wonders of modern programming, almost anyone can write a poorly behaved software program that can cripple a server by accident.

Approved tools means that you have some kind of a process for determining when a tool can be used in your business. For example, the most common kinds of tools on your "approved" list will be:

- Any tool distributed by Microsoft
- Any tool distributed by your preferred Anti-Virus vendor
- Tools you've purchased or licensed
- Services you subscribe to

For many years we have preferred the tools and "widgets" distributed by Microsoft. Even if they come with a warning that they're not supported, we believe they are vetted in large part by wide-spread usage. Robocopy is an example of such a tool.

What you don't want is for a technician to Google something, download whatever looks good, install it on a client network, and destroy the client's system. Obviously, that's the worst case scenario.

Much more commonly, an old or poorly-written tool can replace a key .dll and cause problems that lie dormant and are difficult to trace.

Many legitimate tools are also troublesome. For example, we used to use Belarc advisor many years ago. But their licensing is very clear that it is not intended for consultants to install wherever they want and make money without paying anything to Belarc. That's why they have a professional subscription.

More importantly, we have Zenith agents on all of our client machines. So there's no reason for a technician to install something else. Belarc reports don't draw data from Zenith, provide data to Zenith, or provide us with key information that's not already in Zenith. So there's no point in installing one more program to get data we're already getting. The tech should learn and use the approved tool.

Another minor argument for letting techs use whatever tool they want is that they will use tools they know well and are comfortable with, so they will work faster. Maybe. In reality, this is often a license to go fishing on the Internet to find something new and cool. The first choice should be an approved tool.

Here's another example: There are a hundred places you could go to look up Event ID notices and what they mean. The "easiest" is simply Google. But with Google, the tech is likely to wander down several rabbit holes before he finds the right answer. And now that Google indexes every tech support forum on earth, your technician will likely read hundreds of posts that simply say "Yeah, I have the same problem."

If you have an approved tool such as EventID.net, the tech is much more likely to spend time on task and solve the problem quickly.

- Benefits and Notes -

As with most SOPs, the goal is to increase overall success as a TEAM. That means that you can go from machine to machine, client to client, and know that you won't run into a different set of minor issues with each computer because of the hodge-podge of tools being used.

Consistency.
Reproducability.
Reliability.

Note, please, that you don't need a long list here. In fact, you need a short list. What do you use for . . .

- Anti-Virus
- Special virus fix-ups
- Hard drive recovery
- Registry maintenance
- Password locker
- File maintenance and sizing
- ISO imaging
- Screen captures
- FTP/TFTP
- System Information
- Patch Management
- Remote Access

These probably cover 95% of all issues you deal with. It may not make sense to have standardized tools for other things because you will use them so seldomly. And, depending on what you do on a daily basis, you might not need all of these.

- Forms -

This SOPs is not implemented with forms, but with a software directory. Whether on Sharepoint, a cloud storage area, or on your own server via a mapped drive, you should have a directory that contains your tools. For items with installable files and license keys, you'll create sub-directories.

This policy is implemented with a brief memo outlining the approved tools and where they're stored.

As with all other policies, it's important that members of the team help to remind each other of the policy, and to implement it.

Your Comments Welcome.

:-)


Don't miss the three-part webinar series

How To Make Money With the Intel Hybrid Cloud!

Part 1 - June 9, 20ll 9AM Pacific - Watch it Now!

Part 2 - June 16, 2011 9AM Pacific - Register Now!

Part 3 - June 23, 2011 10AM Pacific - Register Now!

You can always find out more at www.cloudservicesroundtable.com

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Intel Webinars, Seminars, Podcasts, and more. Oh My!


We just did a webinar with Bret Costelow from Intel on the latest info regarding the Intel Hybrid Cloud platform. It's pretty cool how this has matured even since our Roadshow a few months ago.

Part 1 of “Grow services revenue and reach new customers with the Intel AppUp Small Business Service and the Intel Hybrid Cloud program” is Posted Here.

You can register now for Part 2 and Part 3 of these webinars

Making Money with the Intel Hybrid Cloud - Part 2 - Register Now
Thursday, June 16th - 9 AM

Making Money with the Intel Hybrid Cloud - Part 3 - Register Now
Thursday, June 23rd - 10 AM


Learn More on the Cloud Services Roundtable

Also Join us Wednesday, June 15 for a special Cloud Services Roundtable podcast:

June 15, 20ll 9AM Pacific

Intel® Hybrid Cloud - A Look At A Cloud Pay-As-You-Go Option

An informal conversation with Bret Costelow, Intel Hybrid Cloud platform team. We'll talk specifically about how Managed Service Providers can offer locally hosted server software on a pay-as-you-go basis. Costelow will outline the offering and discuss Intel's partner program.

- - - - -

You can learn more about the Intel Hybrid Cloud Program at . . .

- The Intel Hybrid Cloud Page at Small Biz Thoughts

- Intel's Official Hybrid Cloud Page

For training events at Intel, see http://intelhybridcloud.com/training-and-events.html

Monday, June 06, 2011

Super Amazing Savings: SMB Nation Preday 2011

Join Me In Vegas!
Registration is Now Open!

We're starting the planning for the SMB Nation Preday Event 2011.

Las Vegas
September 29th

This year's theme:

Making Money in the Small Business Cloud

We'll talk about the best tools and services to combine in your cloud service offering.

Only $249 per person.
Early bird registration: $199

Details at SMB Books

Special offer:

The first ten people to register for this event can use the code

FIRSTTEN

to register for only $49 !!!

Find Out More

Register Right Now

And if you're not one of the first ten, you'll still get the early bird pricing!





Super Bonus:

Everyone who registers in the month of June will receive a FREE copy of George Sierchio's excellent book

BYOB: Build Your Own Business, Don'T Be Your Own Boss

You don't need to do anything special to receive this offer. Just register for the event and we'll send your book right away.



-- Make your plans now and get your flight so you can be with us all day on September 29th in Vegas, Baby!

- - - - -

Last year's event was HUGE. Over 30 attendees, six hours of exclusive information. This year will be even bigger and better.

Lunch and all-day snacks are included. This amazing super deal just about covers food.

But most importantly, you'll be nourishing your business and moving into profitable cloud services. Please join us in Vegas.

Register Right Now

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Four Square is Dead; Long Live Yelp

I've enjoyed Four Square for a year now. But the thing I enjoyed the most was it's amazing potential. Unfortunately, that potential seems now to be perpetually unrealized.

Sadly, I would like to predict the swift demise of FourSquare.

First, what is it? Foursquare (http://foursquare.com) is a really cool on line/mobile app "game" in which you check in at various places. The coffee shop. The airport. Your favorite restaurant.

If you check in at one place more than someone else, you become the Mayor of that place. So, for example, I am the Mayor of:
- Long Term Parking at the Sacramento Airport
- Robin Robins' Big Seminar
- Autotask Community Live

You can also earn "badges" for visiting a variety of places, "swarming" a location with other FourSquare players, etc.

The Potential of this social media game is that store owners, restaurateurs*, etc. could use the game to draw people in. They can create badges for people who check in. They can give coupons to players, and something special to the mayor. They can leverage this game to attract the eight million people playing FourSquare.

Here are the stats (from https://foursquare.com/about:
    foursquare by the numbers (last updated April, 2011)
    • Users: Over 8 million worldwide, adding around 35,000 new users each day
    • Check-ins per day: Over 2.5 million, with over half a billion check-ins in the last year
    • Businesses: Over 250,000 using the Merchant Platform (more information at foursquare.com/business)
    • Employees: Over 60 between headquarters in New York, NY, and a satellite engineering office in San Francisco, CA
That all sounds good. But FourSquare is dying for several reasons.

The biggest reason is that The people who could benefit most do not participate. These are business owners, shop keepers, etc. I have gone into store after store, restaurant after restaurant. When I say I've checked in on FourSquare they just look at me like I'm insane. When I ask whether they participate, they usually say they don't pay for stuff like that.

In fact, the person I talk to almost never has any influence over such things. The owners need to find out about FourSquare and choose to do something with it. But they don't get it. And they don't know about it.

So, the second biggest reason FourSquare is dying is that they have relied on raving fans and crowd-source marketing. But those raving fans never talk to the people who could choose to get connected on FourSquare.

I'm also the mayor of a saloon in Nashville that's absolutely packed fourteen hours a day. I've only ever checked in their twice and I'm the Mayor. I haven't been there in months, but no one else who goes there plays FourSquare. If they did, I wouldn't be mayor!

Basically, FourSquare got old because the people who should care don't.

Enter Yelp

Yelp - www.yelp.com - is a site where anyone can post up reviews about food, parking, service, products, services, or whatever. You can't fill all of your reviews with horrible profanity, but other than that, it's pretty much open for anyone to do anything.

I've known about Yelp for a long time, but I didn't participate. Gradually, I noticed that there were Yelp reviews on many Google search results. Then I noticed a few friends who posted a number of reviews when they travel. And, on the flip side, I noticed a growing number of people who made comments like "They got good reviews on Yelp."

But one simple act made me decide to sign up for Yelp: The owner of a hair salon asked me to post a review on Yelp. She never asked me about Facebook pages or FourSquare. She specifically said that she wanted to build a good reputation on Yelp.

At Last! A business owner who knows how to use social media.

I signed up for Yelp and I entered exactly one review: for Simone Salon and Spa (www.simonespa.com. Yelp asked me to use my Facebook logon and I said yes.

Within 24 hours I had 113 "friends" on Yelp.

Focus on the Merchant

The interesting thing to note as a merchant is that Yelp puts the emphasis on the merchant rather than the user/client. FourSquare is client focused. But because merchants couldn't get their head around a "game" as a way to make money, they ignored it. Yelp is focused directly on the merchant. And it's focused in a pointed way: If you're good at what you do, then you'll do well on Yelp!

Of course I could be wrong, but I think FourSquare is going to decline. Among my friends who used to use it all the time, I'm the last to give up. I ask people if they've checked in and they open up Facebook mobile and check in at a Facebook Place instead.

:-)

Just a wacky side note: "restaurateur" is one of my favorite completely impossible words to spell. No "n" required. Or allowed. Everyone else seems stuck on necessary vs. neccesary. I'll take restaurateur any day.

:-)



Keep ahead of the cloud with Intel® Hybrid Cloud platform events and webinars:

June 9, 16, 23 – Karl Palachuk webinars– “Grow services revenue and reach new customers with the Intel AppUp Small Business Service and the Intel Hybrid Cloud program”

June 7 – Intel webinar – Technical deep dive into the Intel Hybrid Cloud platform

June 9 – Astaro webinar – Using Astaro with Intel AppUp Small Business Service

June 10 – SMB Nation conference – TJ Nagy, Intel Hybrid Cloud platform team, presents “Grow services revenue and reach new customers with the Intel AppUp Small Business Service and the Intel Hybrid Cloud program”

June 15 – Cloud Services Roundtable podcast– an informal conversation with Bret Costelow, Intel Hybrid Cloud platform team, telling us about the latest and greatest with the Intel Hybrid Cloud platform

For more details check www.SmallBizThoughts.com or http://www.IntelHybridCloud.com

Friday, June 03, 2011

SOP Friday: Service Ticket Updates

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedures. Those are the handy little processes that you can put in place to make everything in your company work better . . . if they're followed.

- - - - -

- Overview -

When you get a new service request (service ticket), there are several key pieces of information that will make you life easier. Some of these are the absolute basics of a service ticket (see the last SOP post on Working in Real Time).

Aside from a time entry itself, the service ticket needs to have some key information so that you can make your operation run more smoothly. Remember the old adage "garbage in/garbage out." You can't run any reports on data you don't collect! You can't take actions on data you don't put into the system. And, in this case, you will lose money if you don't have all the data you need.

Data you absolutely need to collect for each service ticket includes:

- Client Name / Contact Name
- Ticket / Job Title
- Desktop / User
* Priority of the Service Request (high, medium, low)
- Due Date
- Issue type (e.g., add/move/change or managed service)
- Issue Sub-Type (e.g., desktop, server, printer)
- Work Type (e.g., remote maintenance)
* Estimated Time to Complete Job
- Work Queue or service board


Data that's nice to collect and may be useful includes:

- The Source of the service ticket (phone, email, tech talked to client, etc.)
- Is this a recurring issue?


If you have a PSA system such as Autotask, ConnectWise, or Tiger Paw, then you are probably collecting most or all of this information. Certainly, you could be collecting it. If you have your own home-grown system, then you should try to make a point to collect this info.

But more importantly, every person who touches a service ticket should make sure this info is correct. Here's what I mean:

The most common ways that a service ticket enters our system are:

1) The client enters a service ticket through the client portal

2) The client sends us an email and Email2AT parses it into a service ticket

3) A client calls on the phone and our office manager enters a service ticket

4) A client talks to a tech and the tech enters a service ticket

In each case, it is likely that the office manager and a technician will open and look at a service ticket before the service manager. The service manager will eventually open the service ticket if it hasn't already been worked and closed by the time he goes to sort through the service board.


- Implementation Notes -

Each person who touches the service ticket is responsible for entering information into the "required" fields above. The two items most likely to be skipped are marked with an asterisk - Setting the priority and setting the time estimate. Oddly enough, these are two of the most important fields.

We work all jobs based on their priority. Therefore, each service ticket must have a priority! You cannot work jobs in the right order if the most important variable for sorting is missing! The time estimate is critical to estimating your backlog and for scheduling. We ask our office manager to simply enter one hour into this field if it is blank or she has no information to go on. That is normally a high estimate, but it's better than a zero!

Because the service manager massages the service board at least once a day (see a future SOP), he will always check the time estimate on every service ticket he touches. So the time estimate will become accurate in short order.


- Benefits -

Eventually you will want to run reports to tell you whether a specific client is profitable, whether a specific piece of client equipment is troublesome, the average close time for a service ticket, the number of "Priority One" tickets in the system, and so forth. With a PSA system you have an amazing amount of information about your own business. But you have to put the information in if you plan to get it out.

One of the key pieces of information is your backlog: How many hours of labor do you have in the system? Backlog is determined by the total hours remaining on all the service tickets. You also need to track the billability of your technicians (see last week's SOP on tracking time with your PSA). The calculation looks like this:

Backlog = hours to be worked x billability of techs

Let's say your average tech is 60% billable (in a 40 hour week, they put in 24 hours of billable labor). And let's say you have 240 hours of estimated labor in your service board. Therefore, you need to plan having 400 hours of labor available in order to finish that work.

These calculations will tell you whether your backlog is likely to shrink or grow over time, based on the labor you have available. These can help you decide whether to cut hours or hire a new tech.


- Forms -

If you have a PSA, the "forms" you need to implement this SOP are built in. Otherwise, you'll need to create a tracking system of some kind that includes the key variables above.

Implementing this policy is pretty simple. Just have everyone who touches a service ticket go through the key fields and adjust as needed. You might even take a screen shot of the "New Ticket" screen and highlight the fields that you require. Give each tech, and the office manager, a copy.


Your Comments Welcome.


:-)





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Thursday, June 02, 2011

SBS Essentials with Hosted Exchange and Hosted Backup

Yesterday I participated in Microsoft's "24 Hours In The Cloud" webinar marathon. This was a series of 24 one-hour webinars, all focused on various aspects of cloud computing.

My presentation was Migrating to SBS Essentials with Hosted Exchange and Hosted Backup.

I have now loaded that presentation (about 45 minutes) on the member area of Cloud Services Roundtable. This is a PowerPoint presentation in .wmv format.

Cloud Services Roundtable members can download the presentation from the Cloud Services Roundtable Web site.

Also look for the three-part webinar series on Migrating from SBS to the Cloud AND the original podcast on delivernig our 5-pack cloud offering. Those shows are listed on the Index of Past Shows.

:-)

Windows Introduces the iPad

Yesterday Microsoft's UI (user interface) team announced the look and feel of the new Windows 8 Interface. See http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2011/jun11/06-01corporatenews.aspx.

View the video demo of Windows 8 Interface
.

If you turn off the sound, you can easily imagine it's a iPad commercial. But don't get too carried away and say that Microsoft stole this from Apple. Remember, Microsoft has had the Tablet PC and the Windows Surface computer. Sorry, I can't help but post this parody of the Surface computer:


Anyway . . .

The new Windows UI seems to be designed completely for hand-held devices. Clean. Fast. Cool.

But it seems silly as a desktop PC interface. I already have to buy ergo anti-crippling devices for my employees. How will they sit at a desk all day with their arms fully extended forward, moving back and forth on a wide screen monitor?

For a couple years now I have been saying in my live presentations that the browser is the interface of the future, and "apps" are the way we'll compute. But most of the time, most of the people doing most of the tasks in most of the offices just need to stare at a screen and type most of the time. Period. Those users don't know or CARE about the difference between Windows 3.1, 95, Vista, or iPad. Just get me to the program where I get my real work done.

Interfaces seem to be designed for home users, hobbyists, and guys who wear black turtleneck-like t-shirts all the time.

Luckily, Microsoft always has an option to make the current operating system look like the previous operating system. I suspect the delightful Vista interface we've enjoyed since 2006 will be around for another five years. Some things just work. In fact, if we could just make everything look like Windows XP, that would make everyone happy.

I'm not sure why Microsoft is slavishly copying a company that's been around since Day One of the personal computer market and has less than 10% of the market.

:-)




Now Available:
Introduction to Zero Downtime Migrations
Seminar on MP3 Download