Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Business Solutions "Best Channel Products" Survey

Got a memo from my friends at Zenith Infotech. Feedback feeds the system. Please take a minute and participate.

    I wanted to take a minute to see if you would like to participate in the Business Solutions' "Best Channel Products" Survey.
    They have taken the advice of our readers and have made changes to this year's survey. First, you'll notice that there aren't as many products included in the survey. This should reduce the amount of time needed to vote for your favorite products. Second, the results of the survey (which will appear in the August 2011 issue of Business Solutions) will be more exclusive than ever, giving you a more accurate look at what truly are the best channel products.
    This year's survey is only live for 5 days! Don't delay - VOTE NOW or miss the opportunity to support your vendors and their products.
    Complete the survey by the June 3 deadline to be entered into a drawing for 1 of 6 prizes. Five VARs will receive $100 Visa gift cards while one lucky VAR will receive the grand prize of a $500 Visa gift card.
    Take the survey here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/P6H27WL


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Monday, May 30, 2011

Updated Schedule / Instructions: 24 Hours In The Cloud

We're getting down to the wire with the big "24 Hours in the Cloud" event. Starts June 1 at 9:00 AM Pacific and goes on for 24 hours. One webinar per hour.

The GITCA web site is impossible to traverse and doesn't work with browsers other than Internet Explorer. So here's how you can view these sessions.

I've posted the updated times, presenters, and session titles below. The timetable with longer descriptions is here: http://sp.gitca.org/sites/24hours/ugpages/FinalSessions.aspx.

Speaker information is here: http://sp.gitca.org/sites/24hours/ugpages/FinalSpeakers.aspx.

Note: There is no registration for this event.
So don't log in. Don't sign up. Don't confuse yourself by trying to register.

On the day of the event, simply go to http://vepexp.microsoft.com/24HitC/ and watch the presentation. If you want to ask questions, go to Twitter and follow hashtag #24hitC.

If you're not a Twitter Geek, here's an easy way to follow the discussion:

1) Go to http://tweetgrid.com/.

2) Click on the 1 X 2 option

3) Use the left side to play in case you get bored. On the right side type #24hitC and click Search.

4) If you want to join the discussion or ask a question, just send a tweet with that hashtag. For example: "Where do I buy SBS Essentials? #24hicC"

You can also follow the 24 Hours in the Cloud folks on Twitter at @24hitC.

- - - - -

Revised and Updates Sessions:

Session Time

9:00AM/5:00PM Doug Terry
KeyNote: Technology in the Cloud - Plus some Challenges and Opportunities

10:00AM/6:00PM Ricardo Gonzalez Varga
Introduction to Azure Connect

11:00AM/7:00PM Rodrigo Pinto
Developing for Sharepoint Online

12:00 Noon/8:00PM Swanand Pol
Migrating ASP.NET Applications To Windows Azure

1:00PM/9:00PM Neil Simon
Introduction to Windows Azure and Cloud Computing

2:00PM/10:00PM Dave O'Leary & Terrie McAloney
Opportunity and Risk of Cloud Computing for Higher Education

3:00PM/11:00PM Dave O'Leary
Challenges in migrating existing apps into the cloud

4:00PM/12:00AM Andy Zhang
Effective Server Management--Applications in the Cloud and on the Premise

5:00PM/1:00AM Dana Epp & Charlie Russel
Trust in the Cloud

Trust in the Cloud -- how you use the cloud, do you trust your data there, how do you leverage cloud technologies to EXTEND your trust and also what happens to that trusted data when you can't pay your monthly fee.

6:00PM/2:00AM Panel Discussion
Why Businesses are Making the Move to the Cloud

7:00PM/3:00AM Jesús Enrique Gonzales Azcarate
Windows Intune: Administración de las PC’s con Cloud Services
Note: This session is in Spanish

7:30PM/3:30AM Cheng Zhang
Building Your First Private Cloud Now

8:00PM/4:00AM Karl W. Palachuk
Migrating to SBS Essentials with Hosted Exchange and Hosted Backup

Many small businesses are operating with Microsoft’s Small Business Server or Server 2008 and Exchange onsite. With limited bandwidth for the next few years, the perfect solution is SBS Essentials (active directory and storage) onsite and other vital services in the cloud. Karl, author of The Network Migration Workbook, will walk you through the process of migrating to SBS Essentials, combined with cloud-bases services, with zero downtime at the client’s office.

9:00PM/5:00AM Seb Matthews
Private Cloud Solutions, yes, no or maybe?

10:00PM/6:00AM Anton Staykov
Building scalable Video Converter with Windows Azure

11:00PM/7:00AM Miguel Lopez
A lap around Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket and the Open Data initiative and some interesting uses of public data

June 2 - Midnight Pacific Time

12:00AM/8:00AM Jim Reavis
Achieving Security Assurance and Compliance in the Cloud

1:00AM/9:00AM Reza Ameri
Privacy in Cloud

2:00AM/10:00AM Bill Wilder
Cloud Scalability Patterns for the Windows Azure Platform

3:00AM/11:00AM Tomica Kaniski
Building Your "Private Cloud"

4:00AM/12:00 Noon Razi bin Rais
Gettting Started with Microsoft SharePoint Online

5:00AM/1:00PM Greg Edwards
To the Cloud: Online Living with Windows Live

6:00AM/2:00PM Martin Schmidt
Extreme Scaling with SQL Azure

7:00AM/3:00PM Martin Schmidt
SQL Azure performance tuning and monitoring - Let's open up the black box

8:00AM/4:00PM J. Trevor Hughes
Data Environmentalism

Sunday, May 29, 2011

SOP Friday: Working in Real Time

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.

First, I need to apologize for not posting this on Friday. It's a new series and I just plain forgot! So here's the SOP Friday installment for May 27th.

- - - - -

One of the hardest things for people to do is to keep good track of their time. At the same time, this is one of the key elements of success, both in tech support delivery and business generally.

Time tracking is absolutely critical to profitability. Unfortunately, it's one of those things that everyone knows they should do, but don't always get around to.

There are several pieces to working in real time.

First, the definition: Working in real time means that you enter your labor into your PSA system as soon as you complete a job. In fact, it is preferred that you log on and enter time as the last step in each job. That way, even if it only takes a few minutes, the time to enter time is part of the job!

This is completely legitimate. If the job is billable, then the time to enter time is billable. If the job is covered under managed service, then the time appears in the system for that specific client/ticket. In either case, it is critical that the time is properly associated with the ticket so that you can run reports and determine the profitability of each job and client.

We use a hosted PSA system (Autotask) so we can log on from any computer at any client's office and enter time. Before we had a PSA system, I used a simple web-based form that emailed job notes to me. This included start/stop times, a description of the work accomplished, and notes about any hardware or software that was delivered.

I made a habit of filling out this simple form after each job, and required my techs to do the same thing. Before that, I required that they sit down and fill out a printed form before leaving the client. Same information, just a different delivery method.

The alternative to working in real time is that you have to have perfect recall or perfect notes. Perfect recall is perfectly impossible. Whether it's you or your employees, mistakes will be made. Recall will be wrong. Whole hours will disappear. Job notes will be lost.

Perfect notes are much better. BUT if you take perfect notes, why not take an extra 3-5 minutes and enter them into the system? The alternative is to wait until after work and then sit down and enter all your time at once. This will then take an hour that can't be billed or properly allocated to jobs!

- Implementation Notes -

The easiest way to implement the policy of working in real time is to base employee pay on the reports you get from your PSA system. This means you need a ticket for "admin" time so that you can track employee time between 8 AM and 5 PM with no gaps or overlaps. This is also a GREAT way to find out if you have techs putting 4-6 hours a day on internal admin tasks versus client-facing tickets.

As with everything else, you'll need to make the decision, announce it, implement it, and then build an atmosphere in which everyone supports everyone else to be successful.

- Benefits -

Here are the key benefits of working in real time:

1) You have a better sense of where you are with each client/ticket

2) Important notes are not forgotten

3) Time is entered accurately

4) Employee hours are accurate

5) Everyone on the team can see the accurate status of a job

6) With accurate time entry, you can get accurate calculations of billability, profit per hour billed, cost to support a client, backlog, etc. None of these key metrics is possible if you are just guessing at the hours worked and how they're allocated.

- Forms -

If you are using a manual process, you need a simple form. In the modern world, this really should be a mobile app or a web page. In either case, the form elements are:

- Client
- Ticket / Job Title
- Desktop / User
- Technician
- Date
- Start Time
- Stop Time
- Adjustment for time if necessary
- Work was on site / remote
- Notes on work performed. This should include key information about what happened, notes from third party support, and all information needed to discuss this matter with the client or others as needed. It should also include notes on the delivery of products and any client requests for quotes or other information for the sales department.
- Internal notes regarding billing (not for clients)

Of course a PSA system will automate all of this.

One of the coolest things about working in real time is that you get a steady stream of emails all day showing how your business is progressing and your people are taking care of your clients. Ping-ping-ping. :-)

Your Comments Welcome.


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24 Hours In The Cloud - June 1st

Well, really June 1st and 2nd . . . Live on the Internet.

I announced awhile back that I'm going to be on GITCA's "24 Hours In The Cloud" program. See http://sp.gitca.org/sites/24Hours/ugpages/Home.aspx to register.

This will be a series of 24 presentations with Q&A . . . all focused on delivering cloud services and making money.

I will be presenting an hour called Migrating to SBS Essentials with Hosted Exchange and Hosted Backup. In this short span I will try to cover the business argument for making this move, give some technical how-to, and answer questions.

Here's the tentative schedule (all times are U.S. Pacific Time Zone):

June 1st

9:00:00 AM Doug Terry

10:00:00 AM J. Trevor Hughes

11:00:00 AM Ricardo Gonzalez Vargas

12:00:00 PM Rodrigo Pinto

1:00:00 PM Swanand Pol

2:00:00 PM Neil Simon

3:00:00 PM Dave O'Leary - 1

4:00:00 PM Dave O'Leary - 2

5:00:00 PM Andy Zhang

6:00:00 PM Dana Epp & Charlie Russell

7:00:00 PM Jesús Enrique Gonzales Azcarate

8:00:00 PM Jim Reavis

9:00:00 PM Karl W. Palachuk

10:00:00 PM Seb Matthews

11:00:00 PM Anton Staykov

June 2nd

12:00:00 AM Miguel Lopez

1:30:00 AM Cheng Zhang

2:00:00 AM Reza Ameri

3:00:00 AM Bill Wilder

4:00:00 AM Tomica Kaniski

5:00:00 AM Razi bin rais

6:30:00 AM Greg Edwards

7:00:00 AM Martin Schmidt - 1

8:00:00 AM Martin Schmidt - 2

Notice that Dana Epp and Charlie Russell also have a presentation on security.

Please Join us!


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Friday, May 20, 2011

SOP Friday: Date Formats

Standard Operating Procedures
SOP Friday: Date Formats

I had a very rare frustrating experience with dates the other day. On a written form, someone had written the date 11/10. That's it. 11/10. It was either November 10th or October 11th. But what year? Not even a two digit year? Although in this case, 11/10/11 or 10/11/10 might have just added confusion to things.

SOP Friday: Date Formats

- Overview -

There are generally two times when you write out dates. One is when communicating with people, like this:

June 1, 2011 (abbreviated 6/1/11)

or 1 June, 2001 (abbreviated 1/6/11)

The other occasion when you write out dates is when you are taking notes, creating file names, saving configuration files, and working with computers. In these situations, you need a format that is completely consistent so everyone on the team understands the format, knows what to look for, and can find things quickly.

Because you might have directories with a large number of files, a date format that is self-sorting. Here's our policy:

  • All time and Date stamps used in file names, saving configuration files, etc. will be in the form:
    YYYYMMDD e.g. 20111213
  • If just the month is used it would be 200612
  • If you have multiple files on a day (for example, iterations of a configuration file), you might add two digits, such as:
  • Do not abbreviate the year as in 111213 or 11.12.13

- Implementation Notes -

For old-timers in the crowd, you probably used this same system with DNS files back in the days when we hand-crafted them. With DNS files, you could use any numbering scheme you wanted. The system would simply implement the highest-numbered file sequence. So you could get away with


This ran into problems when some program changed the file and implemented their own numbering scheme.

If you use the scheme outlined above, then the newest file will always have the highest number:


Note that you can make up to 99 changes per day to this file before you have an issue with the numbering scheme.

This is also handy for file version numbers, such as



- Benefits -

This seems (and is) rather anal retentive. But it is very useful in avoiding confusion. I have been absolutely amazed at how many ways people have managed to write dates in their tech notes and with file names. When you have lots of files, and many versions, having a standard format can make it a lot easier and faster to find things.

Here are the date formats we don't use:
I'm sure I forgot some!

- 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.


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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ZDNet UK Advisory Panel

Hey, UK folks. I got this note from Rupert Goodwins, Editor of ZDNet UK. In case you are interested and haven't seen it, they're forming an advisory Panel.

    As the first stop for IT professionals who want authoritative, analytical and insightful coverage of the latest developments in technology, we want to find out more about what you want and how you want it.
    We'd like to hear your thoughts on how ZDNet UK can help you get the information you need about business technology, to help you succeed in your career.
    So we're setting up the ZDNet UK Advisory Panel – an exclusive group of individuals who will take part in active discussions which will help shape the future of ZDNet UK.
    As an Advisory Panel member we will regularly be in touch to get your insights and advice, and you'll have a privileged channel straight to the heart of the site.
    It's your chance to make a difference.
    Rupert Goodwins
    Editor, ZDNet UK

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Friday, May 13, 2011

SOP Friday: The !Tech Directory

This is the first installment in a new series I'm doing every Friday called SOP Friday.

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.

Some people argue that you should not put standard processes in place until you're successful, have a few employees, and are ready to really grow. I think that is very short-sighted and has cost many companies a lot of money.

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Michael Gerber's E-Myth Revisited. It is a great discussion about standard procedures and why they are extremely helpful for even very small businesses.

There's an old saw that you should act like the person (business) you want to become. If you have sloppy procedures or do every job differently, then you won't be able to suddenly create and propagate SOP's when you start to grow. Just like any other muscles, your muscles of success will be trained to be non-standardized. You need to exercise those standardization muscles now, not when you have 50 employees.

- - -

So here's the first SOP

SOP: The !Tech Directory

- Overview -

The c:\!Tech directory is a key component of standardizing the machines we work on. On some occasions, we will use d:\!Tech, but whenever possible, we'll use c:\!Tech.

This directory name assures that the directory will be at the top of file listings and easy to find. Here's what's inside:

C:\!Tech\Tech Notes

Generally, this is the place to put drivers (hardware), downloads (software), source info, etc. the tech notes section is a good place for troubleshooting notes, screen caps, etc. Sometimes when you're on site, it's faster to go here than to Autotask (ConnectWise/Tigerpaw). You can even place a .pdf version of the Network Documentation Binder.

Normally, when we set up a machine, we copy various files into one or more of these directories. It is extremely rare that we don't need to copy or download some kind of file, so there's a 99% probability that this folder structure is created when the machine is brand new.

Note: We NEVER download a file to the desktop, to the "my documents" folder, to the Temp directory, or to anywhere other than the C:\!Tech directory. Why? Well, that's the essence of SOPs: If I have to re-do some work, or re-install a printer, etc., then I know for a fact that I'll find the files in the C:\!Tech directory. I don't have to waste time looking through c:\temp, c:\windows\temp, user folders, my docs, desktop, etc.

There's only one place for those downloads. They're either there or not. But they're NOT anywhere else.

- Implementation Notes -

1) Whenever a tech puts notes here, you should use either Notepad (txt format) or Wordpad save in RTF format. That way you can access these notes right from there server where you won't have MS Word available.

2) A good way to start with this SOP is to create a service ticket in Autotask (ConnectWise/Tigerpaw) to create these directories. Next, add the creation of these directories to your New PC checklist. And integrate them into your checklists for server builds and other procedures.

3) One of the most common things we use this directory for is configuration backups and notes. For example, whenever you make changes to the router or firewall, first backup the config to c:\!Tech\Hardware. Then make your changes and create another backup to the same location. Use a standard date format (see next week's SOP tip).

- Benefits -

The primary benefit of the C:\!Tech directory is that you save time, which means money. Second, it is organized so you can actually operate more efficiently. And, third, this SOP makes it much easier to send other people out to do a job, or to coordinate with remote support providers.

When there's a place for things to go, people tend to put things where they belong. As a tech support company, it's very handy to keep all your stuff in one place so you can provide excellent tech support and not waste time looking in different places on each server.

- Forms -

There are no specific forms for this SOP, although you might write up a brief description of the procedure and put it into your SOP or SAP binder (SAP stands for Standards and Procedures).

Your Comments Welcome.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Word of the Year: Disintermediation

From my weekly email newsletter:

In 2010 I started hearing people in the technology field use the term "disintermediation." This term comes from economics. Mediation refers to the person in the middle - the intermediary. So dis-intermediation means "cutting out the middleman."

We've been hearing this a lot in technology for a few reasons.

First, Microsoft considers US - their "partners" - as the intermediaries. So when Microsoft uses the term disintermediation, they mean cutting you and me out of the picture so they can sell directly to the end user and not have to share profits with us.

Second, to end users the intermediaries are anyone other than the manufacturer of the software or hardware. So whenever a client can buy direct, they want to have that option. It might not always make sense to go direct, but it is an option that needs to be put forward as never before. Clients are beginning to expect the option.

Third, cloud services have dramatically increased the ability to remove intermediaries. Clients can buy services directly OR using their good old service providers.

In other industries, disintermediation has also gained popularity. In any business where brokers and intermediaries have flourished, technology is making the broker role more difficult. I know from the world of publishing that old-school book publishers are having a very tough time. Even book stores are seen as intermidiaries when people can buy direct.

We've also seen disintermediation in the field of real estate. Why pay 6% to the realtor when almost every form you sign is 1) standardized, and 2) required by state law? Just get the forms, fill them out, and make the deal. So in the real estate bubble that burst two years ago we saw cut-rate do-it-yourself real estate operations that took a much smaller piece of the pie and provided only the most minimal services.

Since Gutenberg invented the printing press, technology has always increased the ability of people to acquire goods and services without intermediaries. In other words, technology has been cutting out the middleman for almost 600 years. And you can count on that trend increasing in speed and frequency.

If you think about it, and are not emotionally invested in it, disintermediation is not a BAD thing. It's just a thing. It exists. You need to know about it and decide what you'll do. Brokers of various kinds will always exist. The best brokers will always add value, and therefore make a good living connecting users with services.

And so perhaps our industry is morphing into a broker system of sorts. (Or perhaps it's always been that way and we are just realizing it.)

Here's the Good News

Guess What?

All of your clients are going through the same thing. Lawyers are finding that their potential clients can find the same contracts they "write" online through the same services they subscribe to. Doctors are finding that potential patients are going to drive-by clinics to get super scan analyses that cost lots of money and are never covered by insurance. Imagine how difficult that is: Like when you get a new client AFTER they spend $30,000 on hardware and software.

Your clients are looking for ways to save money. They are looking for ways to save money by eliminating the middleman. Your clients are looking for ways to disintermediate their supply line. This is a great opportunity for you. Almost all disintermediation involves technology. Woo Hoo!

Keep an eye out for opportunities to help your clients improve their businesses. In particular, the big move in the next few years will be to help clients make more money by cutting out a middleman of some kind. This is a huge industry and YOU are perfectly situated to take advantage of the opportunity.

. . .

If you find something particularly successful, let me know!


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