14 Oct 2016

Social Media Engagement

By Jim Hauer, Owner HCS Tech and Marc Jackson, Social Media Expert

I have to admit that as a person who remembers seeing the Beatles live on the Ed Sullivan Show, social media is a bit of a mystery to me. I have been having conversations with Marc Jackson who has demonstrated to me a keen knowledge of social media engagement and with Robert Tyndall, Manager of Web Services at HCS Tech. This blog is a collaboration of our recent discussions and a blog Marc provided to us, regarding what I feel is the most significant advertising and marketing medium since TV.This blog is a continuation of the 10 overheard IT mistakes common to most Small Businesses.

 

The Mistake

 

My daughter does our social media stuff, she’s on facebook all the time anyway.

 

Social media engagement has simply become a fact of life for any business, big or small. Yes, the platforms are free to inexpensive, but doing social media engagement is very labor intensive. While your daughter (or other millennial you’ve hired) may be facebook junkie, do they really understand your business and how to take full advantage of this new media? If you are paying them to be on facebook, twitter, etc. how much time are they spending engaging with friends and not clients?

 

Social media is an essential tool to helping expand your brand and business, but has your business made it a top priority?

 

Time Equals Consistency

 

Business owners simply don’t have the time to focus on the social media side of interacting with their customers. While social media accounts are “free”, the hidden cost is paying someone to consistently update your pages, add interesting content, engage with followers, follow and take advantage of trends, keep updated on your social reputation, and keeping your social media presence in line with your business persona and image.

 

Hiring friends and family that are “social media savvy” can be a dangerous pursuit. They usually don’t understand the end goal of what the business is trying to achieve on social media or truly understand the business initiatives of social media. Promoting a business on social media is very different than posting what you had for dinner last night, or the sharing a funny video.

 

The real question is are you willing to sacrifice things not going well by the people you love pertaining to your business. It’s hard to fire your daughter because you are not happy with her facebook posts!

 

Rules Of Engagement

 

Engaging on social media can become frustrating if you don’t get the results you’re seeking on a daily basis. While engaging with the community through social media you must understand that professionalism is the most important thing, just because it’s over the internet doesn’t mean it can’t affect your brand. Quite the opposite, it amplifies your brand either good or bad.

 

This line between good and bad is very thin. Social media consumers can be very fickle and have certain expectations. You must follow certain protocols to keep your posts from being too sales oriented, too stale, or not interesting to the intended audience.

 

You must think outside the box, such as when things are trending around the world thru social media platforms, finding a purpose of it benefiting your business. It’s more to social media than asking people to share a post or like a page. For example, what has your company accomplished to help people in recent disaster? In North Carolina we are cleaning up after hurricane Matthew. Has your company volunteered to help? Have you helped certain clients with your ongoing services? Are you donating to a recovery cause? While people are following this hot trend, is the time you want to be engaged.

 

A social media specialist will be able to help execute your goals, discuss ways to be efficient with your product thru social media. They should engage current and potential clients on social media by creating ideas to help increase traffic and/or revenue within your company. Be creative, set your brand over the top through social media to help reach people within your community and/or the world depending on the website or product you provided.

 

Execute

 

Social media is a powerful tool right now and will continue to grow as the most dynamic way to reach your clients and grow your business. Let’s face it, social media is the biggest thing since Television was introduced. Advertising and traditional marketing approaches have paled in the light of social media reach and affect. The future of accessing  your community and the world is literally in the palm of your hand. Technology will continue to advance and the social media is far from maturity.

 

There is nothing wrong with admitting to not being familiar with social media and what it can bring to your business. Most business owners are not as engaged as the generation that was born with smartphones in their hands. Even if you are an avid social media consumer, the methodology and techniques of engaging the right audience are just know being created. Look at the affect social media is having on our current Presidential race.

 

Do you have the time as a business owner to focus 10-12 hours a week or more on engaging your audience through social media? Probably not. Is social media engagement critical to your continued growth and success? Absolutely.

 

Find the right help you need to off load the important task of making sure you can grow and continue engaging on social media, so as a business owner you can continue to focus on your business.

 

Related Articles:

 

http://www.wordstream.com/social-media-marketing

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/218160

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252733

 

 

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07 Oct 2016

Cloud Services

By Jim Hauer, Owner, HCS Tech

 

I’ve heard about the cloud but it’s not really for us, is it?

 

Cloud services are here to stay until the next major technology innovation comes along. If you are not taking full advantage of cloud technology you are spending too much money on IT. Cloud computing is not do it yourself computing, you need a partner. Most small business computer support teams haven’t moved to the cloud either. Shame on them for not going there and taking you with them.

 

A Brief History

 

Remember 4-5 years ago? Your cell phone was used to make telephone calls; your TV was used to watch movies – DVDs and Cable; your computer was for typing, spreadsheets, email and accessing information; and tablets were the new next thing. At that time devices were content specific, meaning that you couldn’t put a DVD into your phone, make a phone call on your TV, or if you wanted to check email you needed a computer.

 

As devices and tablets progressed, especially smartphones, we wanted to access the same stuff on different devices. Enter the cloud. Cloud based email can now be accessed on our phones, tablets, computers, even your TV. We now watch movies from just about anywhere and music can be played on just about any device at anytime.

 

How did this happen? Content and personal information, like email, contacts, movies, music, and photos are now saved in the cloud and can be accessed by any device that can connect to the Internet, which means just about any electronic device you own. The business community soon figured out that they could keep their information on the cloud too and make it easily accessible by all employees virtually anywhere.

 

Business Applications

 

As cloud service matured, it became more and more apparent that information and resources we use to operate our businesses could also be saved on the cloud. Working from home or while sitting on the beach becomes more attractive and possible when that information can be accessed over an Internet connection.

 

Currently, HCS Tech is run exclusively on the cloud. Internally we use Google Apps and Google Drive to share and collaborate on projects. My Quickbooks is on the cloud, so is access to my bank records. The mission critical software we use for work tickets, invoicing, and repair history is a cloud based application. As a tech based company, we only use local servers when we need storage to backup and transfer data on a customer repair.

There are several advantages to using cloud based software. First of all, you do not have to maintain a server, storage devices, etc. to run the application. If the application is in the cloud the service provider is handling all of the hardware components.

 

You will always be running the latest version. Companies that offer cloud based applications keep them up to date. They only need to update their web version of the software instead of figuring out how to distribute upgrades to all of their users.

 

Access from anywhere. If you have an Internet connection, you can access the software. This access is typically from any device. The better cloud applications have phone and tablet apps specifically for access, but even if they don’t you can get by using the browser on your smart device or tablet.

 

Reduce overall costs and downtime

 

By not having to maintain hardware on your premise you immediately cut down on operating costs and of course any capital expense on equipment purchases. Cloud providers also have multiple redundancy which means it is unlikely that their servers would ever go down, or go down for an extended period.

 

The cloud provider is also using very high level anti-virus and security protection, beyond what you would probably be able to afford on your customer premise equipment.

 

Anti-virus, security, and redundancy at a higher level also means you have disaster recovery and business continuity built into your solution. Most cloud providers will have redundant sites in geographically diverse locations. Your data is also being stored on these diverse servers so you can sleep well at night knowing that the thunderstorm outside your house is not going to knock out your server at work leaving you with a big headache in the morning.

 

Work from Anywhere

 

Let me mention again about working from anywhere. While checking email while you’re at the beach is convenient what really is productive is off site employees being able to stay connected and providing real time data.

 

I just had an appointment with a company that does disaster restoration. By using cloud based apps, their estimators can enter data while at the site, workers can refer back to data, and everyone can stay updated with the latest edits and changes. Instead of driving 60 miles back to the home office, an estimator can finish up a quote at the local coffee shop on their way home.

 

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device

 

Employees, especially younger employees, want to be able to work using their phone or tablet. With cloud computing the device being used is immaterial. You can attract a certain type of personnel and keep them happy by allowing them to use the latest and greatest devices to do their work.

 

I recently changed my payroll service to a cloud based application. The young sales person did everything on his smartphone and tablet, including accessing and training me on the application. I was so impressed with him I offered him a job! (He was too happy where he was, I wonder why?)

 

Better collaboration

 

If you have employees on the road, whether they are selling, estimating, providing services, or other tasks, they can continue to collaborate with other company resources while on the road.  Of course this type of collaboration has been going on for quite some time the the ubiquity of email, but take it to the next level. The salesman on the road can get the up to the second pricing and share a document with internal sales in order to get proposals completed in a timely manner.

 

Cloud computing also makes it easier to collaborate with your customers and your up and down stream supply chain providers. I use a cloud based procurement application to get and fulfill orders with our local school district, my accountant has access to my payroll application and Quickbooks because all they need is a login, and my multiple vendors (we shop around the Internet to get the best pricing on parts) use PayPal one of the biggest and most successful cloud based apps for taking and making payments.

 

Get your head in the clouds

 

Cloud services are here to stay. Too many of my competitors are still persisting on selling their customers expensive servers to do work that is much more efficient and cheaper to do in the cloud. If your provider is not offering you cloud based solutions, find one that is. Yes sometimes you will need a server(s) in your small business, but if your business is like mine, you can operate it virtually from anywhere while at the same time reducing overall operating costs and downtime by going exclusively to the cloud.

 

Related Articles:

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/245784

https://www.dincloud.com/blog/why-cloud-computing-for-small-business

https://www.cleverism.com/cloud-computing-benefits-small-businesses/

 

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29 Sep 2016

Buying one computer at a time

By: Jim Hauer, Owner HCS Tech

 

We buy one or two computers a year, depending on when they break or just get too slow.

 

Buying a computer or two every year sounds like a reasonable way to budget, but you end up with computers that range in age as much 3-7 years, a lifetime in the computer world. Different operating systems, outdated drivers, a range of software versions, along with multiple other issues, ends up costing you much more in total cost of ownership. Yes, there is a way to get a matched set of computers.

 

Operating Systems

 

If you have been buying a new computer a year for the last several years, you could have a bunch of differing operating systems. Here is a list of Microsoft release dates.

 

 

Even though Windows XP came out 15 years ago I  added it to the list because a lot of IT professionals hated Vista and didn’t trust Windows 7, so a lot of computers had XP for quite some time. Then, like Vista, a lot of IT professionals were wary of Windows 8, so much so, Microsoft came out with Windows 8.1 a year later.. There are a lot of legacy operating systems still in use out there, how well do they all work together?

 

Having different operating systems in the office can create problems, here are just a few:

 

  • When you call your IT professionals for support, they have to determine what operating system you are running in order to provide the correct support, which in turn adds time charges to your bill. Also, remember that each version has multiple updates. Even if you have the same operating system your versions may be wide apart.
  • There are separate security and other updates for each operating system making it harder to keep versions up to date. Having to update several different operating systems in your environment also adds additional cost over time.
  • Different versions require different drivers for hardware. When you add a new printer or scanner, you may have to update each version of operating system separately. Going to each machine to find new drivers for each operating system adds time and frustration.
  • New hardware peripherals may not have drivers for older operating systems and some newer operating systems may not have drivers for older equipment. Therefore you may have equipment that can not be used with certain operating systems.
  • Different operating systems may require different versions of software for the same program. These different versions can lead to performance differences and incompatibility issues. Also, certain features may be available on some versions of software and not others, making training a nightmare.
  • Training on new software may be a challenge if your mission critical software runs differently under different versions of operating systems.

 

These bullets are but a few issues that could be a result of having multiple operating systems in your environment. Standardizing on one operating system will decrease the overall cost of ownership for maintaining your computer resources.

 

Budgeting to replace everything

 

In a previous blog I go into detail about budgeting for IT. Basically there are three ways to budget or pay for replacing your equipment all at once so everything is uniform. You can make a capital purchase, finance the purchase with a note or lease, or rent the equipment.

 

Renting seems to be the best option because it allows you to use your capital to make investments back into your business and avoids taking away some of your borrowing power. Renting the equipment allows you to replace all of your equipment every three years, always keeping you current and uniform

 

Please see the budgeting for IT blog for more details.

 

Swapping Out

 

One demoralizing effect of buying one or two computers every year is who gets the new computer. When I see small businesses replacing one or two computers there always seems to be a “swapping out”. Certain people end up getting the new computers to run their software better, while others on the bottom of the company totem pole get stuck with older computers that are hand-me-downs from other workers. With each swap out comes a myriad of issues regarding compatibility of software, drivers, and other issues mentioned above.

 

Another issue of swapping out is talked about in my blog regarding buying the right computer for the job. By constantly moving computers around, some people could end up with underpowered or under performing computers. The flip side is that workers who don’t need a lot of processing power can end up using very high powered machines that cost more money to maintain and manage. Not right sizing computers for your needs adds to the overall cost of ownership.

 

Make a budget and stick to it
Trying to budget your computer needs by buying a few computers every year is just not sound IT management. Figure out a way to get all of your systems uniform and keep it that way. The initial cost may be troublesome (unless you rent), but your overall cost of ownership will diminish greatly over the next three years if you have consistency throughout your IT environment.

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22 Sep 2016

Buying too much computer

By Jim Hauer, Owner, HCS Tech

This is blog number 4 in a 10 part series on mistakes small businesses make when it comes to managing their IT. For an overview of 10 mistakes (and believe me there are more than 10) check out the opening blog here.

 

The guy at the store said this was a really fast computer so we bought it.

Big box stores are looking to move merchandise. That really fast computer may be great for gaming on-line, but do you really need all that power for email and composing documents? Right sizing equipment to your needs can be a tremendous cost savings not only at acquisition but also in total cost of ownership.

 

The car analogy

I hate the car analogy when it comes to selling computers. You know when the sales guy says, “This one here is the Cadillac, it has everything you’ll need, the one over here is a Chevy it will get you by nicely, but if you’re looking for the Corvette, this computer is really fast.”

 

The reason I don’t like the car analogy is that all cars basically do the same thing, they get you from one place to another. The main difference between cars is luxury and performance, but they are all designed to take you and a few passengers from one place to another.

 

The analogy I like to use is: do you need a motorcycle, a car, a small truck, a bus, or a semi? This analogy better focuses on the use of the computer. Here are some real life examples.

 

Motorcycle – A kiosk in the lobby that allows people to surf the web or check out a customer online portal.

 

Car – Knowledge workers that need access to email, simple word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. Their primary applications are hosted or online applications, such as CRM – customer resource management, supply chain management, inventory control, or ERM – enterprise management.

 

Small Truck – Knowledge workers that run applications on their machine and need extra processing power. Some examples are graphic arts, photo editing, CAD – computer aided drawing, and higher end financial modeling.

 

A Bus – These machines start to get into the server class where they are doing the hosting of applications or storing larger databases. These servers can also act as network devices controlling a host of functions on a small to medium size network.

 

Semi – Large servers that are performing processor intensive duties typically in a hosting center or large network environment.

 

By using an analogy of different types of vehicles, we begin to see that different machines have different functions within the organization. Typically the sales clerk at the big box store will have no idea what you need the computer for, what functions it is expected to perform, and what software it will be running.

 

Right Sizing

 

To avoid getting mired in a lot of detail there are really only 4 major things to consider (within each of these areas are a myriad of choices).

 

Processor – The processor is what does the “thinking” for your computer. How fast your computer can processes information and the amount of information it can process in that time are two key factors.

 

Hard Drive – How much information can you save on your computer? Think of a hard drive as a library full of books on shelves. How big does your library need to be? How fast does your computer need to get to those files?

 

Memory – In your library there are study tables that hold books you have pulled off the shelf and that you need ready access to. How much simultaneous information are you going to need at any given time?

 

Peripherals – What do you need to connect to your computer?

 

These questions are typically answered by the specifications of the software you need operate.

 

I recently visited an office. There was an individual who was using design software to calculate their client’s needs and order the right amount of product. He was getting frustrated with the performance and constantly bought more memory thinking that would solve the problem. His processor certainly seemed fast enough. The problem actually lied in a hard drive that was not designed to run at nearly the speed he needed. Something he never considered would be a factor.

 

By buying a computer that had the wrong combination of components the performance of the software suffered and the designer became very inefficient. Also, they accumulated unnecessary repair bills, down time, and overbought the wrong components (he really didn’t need all of that memory).

 

A good IT professional will be able to analyze the software you need to operate your business, look at the software manufacturer’s specifications, and choose components that will optimize the performance of the software. Going back to the vehicle analogy, if you need to haul dirt, talk to the dealer and buy a truck that has the right load capacity and suspension.

 

TCO – Total Cost of Ownership

 

In the example above, there was a lot of wasted effort and money simply because there was no expertise on buying the right computer in the first place. The purchase price and installation of a new computer only accounts for about half the cost of a computer. The other half of the cost is to maintain and operate a computer over it’s lifetime.

 

It is critical that you don’t waste the first half of your investment on too much computer, in other words, a computer that has expensive components that you really just don’t need for a particular job function. On the flip side, not having components that are necessary to take advantage of the software’s performance and overall value will cost you in efficiency, employee frustration, down time, and additional repairs and upgrades.

 

Getting the right sized computer from the beginning maximizes the return on your initial investment and provides the greatest return on the operation and upkeep of that computer over it’s lifetime.

 

Related articles:

 

http://www.cheatsheet.com/technology/9-tips-for-picking-your-machine-computer-shopping-cheat-sheet.html/?a=viewall

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/computers/buying-guide.htm

 

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15 Sep 2016

Budgeting for IT

Budgeting for IT

 

By Jim Hauer, Owner, HCS Tech

 

This is mistake number three (in no particular order) that small businesses make. It is the third part of my 10 overheard IT mistakes common to most Small Businesses.

 

It’s too hard to budget or plan for IT so we just don’t, nobody else does either do they?

 

Without an IT budget, your IT expenses can look like a roller coaster. If your small business is like mine, unplanned expenses, big expenses, can really cause havoc with my P&L. It is not as hard to flatten out monthly IT costs as you may think.

 

Necessary Upkeep and Maintenance

 

IT needs in any business, including small businesses, has become an integral part of your infrastructure. Can you imagine running a business or even your life without a computer, tablet, or smartphone? Yet with changing technology I have rarely seen a small business that has a budget item for IT. Computers break, but no one seems to want to budget for repairs. Technology changes, but no one seems to want to budget for new equipment.

 

According to a Gartner Group article I have cited in previous blogs, more than half of the cost of owning computers comes from maintenance, upkeep, downtime, and repair. So, if you have $12,000 of computer equipment, you should expect to budget at least $12,000 over a three year period, or $4,000 per year just to keep things running. This price includes keeping virus protection current, backing up files, spam filtering, monitoring, and maintenance. Yet, most small businesses fail to budget for this expense.

 

Equipment Replacement

 

Computers have a useful shelf life, typically 3-5 years for desktop computers. After 5 years, the operating systems have probably been updated twice, requiring more memory; and the software that came with the computer has also been upgraded at least once if not more, again often times requiring greater processor speed and more memory.

 

Small businesses need to follow the lead of larger businesses by budgeting for system and equipment upgrades. Several small business owners I know budget to replace one computer every year. Not a very good idea, because that means you have computers that may have a 5 year range in age, operating systems, software versions, processing power, and memory. More about this dilemma in a future blog. If at all possible, budget to replace everything at the same time every 3 years, your total cost of ownership will diminish greatly, you’ll have happy employees, and a system that works seamlessly together.

Owning vs. Leasing vs. Renting

 

The best way I have seen to budget for IT over a three year period is to rent your equipment, but here is a discussion of all three options.

 

Owning – Most small businesses find it difficult to find the capital to buy all new equipment, replacing everything. Although this is by far the best option as I will discuss in a later blog. If capital is short, perhaps a small business loan for equipment is appropriate. A three year note, collateralized by the equipment is a very viable option. The note forces you to budget for that loan payment each month. Make sure though, that you include an equal figure each month for the required maintenance and upkeep discussed above. You also have to pay for repairs or replacement should a system fail. This extra expense can cause a spike in your already budgeted IT costs.

 

The negative with using your own capital or borrowing funds, is that it leaves you with less capital or borrowing power to invest in parts of your business that make you money. Take for example a retail store that turns inventory 4 times a year. That business is much better off using capital or borrowings to invest in inventory that will garner a profit for the business. By turning IT into an operating expense, you free up that capital to make you money.

 

Another negative of ownership is the discipline to do it all over again in 3 years. The temptation is to hold on to that older equipment because “it stills does the job”. But when is too old, too old? Again the temptation is to start doing one-off replacements which eventually puts you into the problem of a mixture of operating systems and machines.

 

What do you do with the older machines when they are ready to be replaced? It typically costs about $200 to decommission a machine. These costs include removing any data from the hard drive, physically removing the machine, and the cost associated with trying to sell it or actually disposing it.

 

Leasing – The typical leasing plan is not all that different from ownership. You need to talk to your tax consultant, but some leases need to be treated as capital expenses, while others can be viewed as operational expenses. While you might be guarding against using capital that could be used for more profitable investments, your borrowing power will certainly be affected.

 

Like ownership, don’t forget to budget for maintenance and upkeep. Also, you may have to pay for repairs or replacement should a system fail. This extra expense can cause a spike in your already budgeted IT costs.

 

Once the lease is done, the equipment is yours either through a $1 buyout or a fair market value buyout at the end of the lease. Just like ownership, you have the temptation of hanging on to the equipment for too long. You also have the problem of what to do with the old equipment if you do make the smart choice to replace it in three years.

 

Renting – By renting the equipment you are not using any capital or any borrowing capacity. The use of the equipment is an operational expense that is easily budgeted. Most companies that offer rental programs also bundle the rental with maintenance and upkeep programs. The owner of the equipment wants to keep the equipment in good running condition, which is to your benefit when it comes to total cost of ownership and budgeting. If a piece of equipment fails, it is their responsibility to replace it or fix it. The rental company that bundles services can keep their rental fees relatively in line with ownership costs because a good maintenance program can reduce the total cost of ownership by as much as 42% according to the Gartner Group.

 

At the end of a rental term, typically 3 years, the owner will replace the equipment with all new equipment, and the rental fee will probably be pretty close to what you were paying. During that rental period, you can also add more machines to the rental contract, or in some cases, downsize with very little penalty. The owner is responsible for disposing of the equipment. As mentioned before it generally costs about $200 to decommission a machine. Your rental provider is now responsible for decommissioning the old machines they replace.

 

Your budget remains flat with no unexpected repair or replacements costs over the life of rental term.

 

If planned well and understanding all of the costs associated with IT equipment, maintenance, and upkeep, you can accurately budget for IT expenses. Failure to do so will cause you to have unexpected expenses throughout the year, which can cause havoc with your cash flow. Take the time to analyze the best way to meet your continuing IT expenses. Find an IT partner that has your best interest in mind and work with them to find the best solution for your small business.

 

Related Articles:

 

http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/636308

http://www.journalofaccountancy.com/issues/2012/mar/20114439.html

http://www.techrepublic.com/article/it-budgeting-the-smart-persons-guide/

https://improveit.org/understandit/planning/developing-your-annual-technology-budget

 

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07 Sep 2016

Relying on one person not in your organization.

By: Jim Hauer, Owner, HCS Tech

 

We have that one IT guy who checks in on us once in awhile.

In a previous blog I outlined the 10 mistakes I see small businesses making when it comes to managing IT. The second on the list is relying on an individual outside of your organization that does IT work on a part-time basis. I’ve seen this a lot in non-profit organizations that have a volunteer that does work when they need it. I’ve also seen this a lot when someone in the organization has a friend or relative that “knows computers” who helps out at a nominal fee.

 

Putting all your eggs in one basket

You know the analogy, you put all of your eggs in one basket and then when you accidently drop the basket, all of your eggs are ruined. This analogy applies to relying on a single person taking care of your IT, but on many different levels.

Typically these part-timers are working other jobs, typically in an IT position elsewhere. So, what happens if they can’t break away from their job to handle an emergency for you? What do you do if there is a critical situation and they are on vacation? What if they take another job and move away? In each scenario you have just dropped your basket of eggs.

If your IT person can not respond within a couple of hours of a major outage, your entire ability to generate revenue can be halted for an extended period of time. Whether your person is on vacation or simply can not respond due to other duties, you could be left with an office full of people twiddling their thumbs, earning a paycheck while not doing anything. Quite often your part timer can only work in the evening or on weekends, not very convenient when the primary software you use to run your business becomes unavailable Monday morning.

 

SLA – Service Level Agreement

By outsourcing IT services, your provider will have a staff of individuals that can typically respond very quickly. Many IT support plans offer SLAs that promise a response time based on the package and critical nature of the systems they support. Because the IT provider has a staff, they typically will have multiple people to respond to your needs, even if the main person that supports your systems is busy, sick, on vacation, or finds another job.

SLAs will come with a price, so make sure the response time you are purchasing is matched to your needs. An accountant during tax season needs an immediate response, while the mechanic in your shop may be able to share a computer between jobs.

 

Qualification, training, and experience

It is very difficult to find one person that has the depth and breadth of knowledge equal to a team of IT professionals. Even our very talented staff at HCS Tech, that all have IT training and extended education, can not cover every IT need that arises. That’s why we have partners that specialize in certain areas outside of our main focus.

A part time IT person certainly does not have all of the skills your company needs and quite often do not seek outside help. Not fixing something correctly the first time can cause even greater problems down the road.

 

Industry Standards

The biggest mistake I see part timers making is not following an industry standard.

I knew of a nonprofit organization that had volunteers that were retirees of  a fortune 500 company’s IT department. First of all the retirees were not up to speed on the latest IT developments. Secondly, they were used to working in an environment of 30,000 employees, a far cry from the 7 person network they were trying to support. In the end the non-profit came to us because our IT outsourcing was geared for small business and small business budgets.

If your part time person is not using industry standard solutions, their “McGyver” approach will eventually render you with a system that can not be supported by anyone but them. Thier “quick fixes” end up snowballing into a disaster (which is what happened at the nonprofit mentioned above).

If your part timer leaves or is unavailable, your system may not be in a condition to be supported if the part timer strayed away from industry standard solutions.

 

Monitoring and remote support

Monitoring and remote support software comes at a cost that is often too expensive for a small business or a single provider to afford. In my blog on “When a small business tries to handle too much” I discuss the fact that a professional IT outsourcing company will have the tools to provide what the Gartner Group calls Well Managed and Locked Down Support. This higher level of support reduces the total cost of ownership – TCO of your systems by 42% according to the Gartner Group article I cited in that blog. Computers that initially cost you $10,000 will cost another $10,000 to support. A 42% savings over the life of this investment is over $8,000. This savings often times offsets the cost of professionally managed IT support.

Don’t risk all of your IT support to one individual. Hire a team of professionals that focus on support for a businesses your size.

Related articles:

 

http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/636308

http://www.entechus.com/blog/the-issue-with-the-1-man-it-department

http://computerguys.sg/2014/05/the-problem-with-a-one-man-it-department/

http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/user-support/the-biggest-challenge-in-a-one-person-it-shop/

 

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31 Aug 2016

When Small Businesses try to handle too much

10 overheard IT mistakes common to most Small Businesses

By: Jim Hauer, Owner, HCS Tech

 

  1. We can take care of everything ourselves, I know computers.

 

In a previous blog I outlined the 10 mistakes I see small businesses making when it comes to managing IT. The first on the list is failure to recognize the benefits of outsourcing IT support. The benefits of outsourcing are not only in overall cost savings but improvement in the overall efficiency of your IT tools and long term efficiency and benefit to your organization.

 

Reduce overall costs

 

The Gartner Group, is the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company.  They produced an article on cost of ownership back in 2008, which has not changed significantly, except that the initial direct cost has gone down as the prices of PC’s have has decreased over recent years. The significance today is the ratios found in the numbers. The Table below is from the article and shows that the initial cost of a PC is only about half of the overall expense. Further the article and Table point out that there is 42% overall TCO savings when PC’s are well managed.

 

Table 1

Total Costs of PC Ownership, 2008 (in US Dollars)

Unmanaged Somewhat Managed Moderately Managed Locked and Well Managed
Direct costs 2,218 2,147 2,056 1,874
End-user costs 3,649 3,122 2,594 1,539
Total cost of ownership 5,867 5,269 4,650 3,413

Source: Gartner (February 2008)

By outsourcing support, your company can take advantage of the more well managed approach your outsource partner will take. A “locked and well managed” approach is typically only available to small businesses through outsourcing and can significantly save your business money over the total life of a PC.

 

These savings are amplified with outsourcing because you can further reduce your personnel costs. Even if you have an employee who works on your computer’s “part-time” you are still paying for that employee to do a job they may not be trained for. In addition, you are still paying for their benefits, management oversight, and training.

 

Operational costs vs. Capital expenditure

 

Good and ongoing monitoring software, systems update software, remote management software, and other tools used by a professional IT outsourcing company come at a cost. This cost is too prohibitive for a small business. Rather than make a capital investment in software tools and equipment to do a better job of support, why not pay your fair share of the cost with an operational expense to an outsourcing company?

 

Many IT support companies also include equipment in their monthly price. Paying a monthly operations fee frees up capital for other more important investments.

 

Focus on what makes you money

 

In a small business we all need to wear several hats. Mowing the lawn, doing payroll, preparing taxes, doing legal work, and other services are usually beyond our scope and capabilities. Trying to support IT, one of the most critical systems in any business, has gone beyond the scope of the typical small business owner. Moving IT support out of the daily business routine frees up your time to focus on what makes you money.

 

Better use of internal resources

 

If you have a “part-time” employee supporting your IT, that employee’s time is being divided between IT support and the job they were hired to do. Quite often the employee was not hired to do the IT maintenance, they just simply inherited the job because they “know computers”. You essentially lose the benefits of why you hired that employee because they are not focusing all of their efforts on what they were hired for in the first place.

 

A typical example is a bookkeeper who gets paid $30,000 per year. If they spend 4 hours a week (a relatively low number of hours) working on IT issues around the office each week, that equates to $3,000 per year you are paying for an untrained, somewhat unqualified person, to handle your IT needs. Above and beyond paying an unqualified person, you probably are still paying an IT support company to fix things beyond the scope of the bookkeeper.

 

Most outsourced IT services cost well below the hidden expense of an unqualified person trying to do IT support and their job. Further, the person supporting IT can not grow in their position, or if they move on to another position elsewhere, you are left with a very difficult void to fill.

 

Improve the quality of service

 

Well managed IT services are planned, professional approaches, that rely on industry standards. They tend to be much more comprehensive in their preventative approaches, device monitoring, system updates, virus updates, and remote maintenance capabilities. IT companies follow industry standards. Many times the part-time IT person will fix something in a “McGyver” fashion, thinking they are efficient by taking short cuts. Before too long your systems are beyond repair and even more difficult to support

 

An internal person handling IT issues, even if that is their main focus, is not qualified in all areas of IT support. By outsourcing you gain access to an entire team of IT professionals, whose depth and breadth of knowledge will far exceed any individual. That means repairs can be completed faster and better, getting your team up and running and efficient in a more timely manner.

 

Flexibility

 

Do you want your company to grow? Or perhaps it is time to downsize. In either case, by outsourcing IT support you have the flexibility to expand or contract by adjusting the contract fees with your outsource provider. If you double the size of your company, you can do so without having to increase or hire internal IT support. The outsource provider can scale with you, up or down.

 

If you outsource IT, outsource everything

 

Too many small businesses will just outsource pieces of the IT puzzle, for example they may only have someone monitor a server, or manage a router. I think it is dangerous not to involve your IT partner in all facets of your IT infrastructure. Everything needs to work seamlessly together. Parceling off pieces and keeping your IT partner in the dark about the rest of your operation seems a little pointless and expensive.

 

Make sure you have an outsourcing partner that wants to get to know your business and bring them into your overall planning and management of the company. The outsourcing partner should have an account manager or other designated individual to act as your CIO – Chief Information Officer. You should include your IT partner in management meetings when you are going to discuss bringin on new technology, especially if you are looking to upgrade existing software or move to a new platform.

 

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25 Aug 2016

10 overheard IT mistakes common to most Small Businesses

By: Jim Hauer, Owner, HCS Tech

 

Maybe I have been around too long, but over the years I have heard the same mistakes coming from small business owners when it comes to information technology. I started my IT career prior to Y2K, remember that? Since then a lot of the mistakes have remained fairly constant. In my list of 10 mistakes – and believe me there are more than 10 – I have only added two that have cropped up in the last few years, social media mistakes and misunderstanding cloud services.

 

So, here is a list of 10 things small businesses have consistently done wrong for the last 20 years. In future blogs I will spend more time on each one of these issues but for now, here is a list and a brief explanation to get us all started.

 

  1. We can take care of everything ourselves, I know computers.

Focusing on what makes you money should be your primary concern. Computers and technology are now a critical part of what you do. IT is simply a tool to more efficiently achieve your mission and goals. Small businesses already outsource things like payroll, lawn maintenance, office cleaning, software development, to name a few, so they can stay focused on achieving their goals. IT should become a part of that outsourced list.

 

  1. We have that one IT guy who checks in on us once in awhile.

Part-time IT professionals do not always work to an industry standard. If they no longer support you because they found another job or moved away, you may be stuck with a system no one else understands. Also, how responsive are they if they can only come in at night or on weekends, what happens when they are on vacation?

 

  1. It’s too hard to budget or plan for IT so we just don’t, nobody else does either do they?

Without an IT budget, your IT expenses can look like a roller coaster. If your small business is like mine, unplanned expenses, big expenses, can really cause havoc with my P&L. It is not as hard to flatten out monthly IT costs as you may think.

 

  1. The guy at the store said this was a really fast computer so we bought it.

Big box stores are looking to move merchandise. That really fast computer may be great for gaming on-line, but do you really need all that power for email and composing documents? Right sizing equipment to your needs can be a tremendous cost savings not only at acquisition but also in total cost of ownership.

 

  1. We buy one or two computers a year, depending on when they break or just get too slow.

Buying a computer or two every year sounds like a reasonable way to budget, but you end up with computers that range in age as much 3-7 years, a lifetime in the computer world. Different operating systems, outdated drivers, a range of software versions, along with multiple other issues, ends up costing you much more in total cost of ownership. Yes, there is a way to get a matched set of computers.

 

  1. I’ve heard about the cloud but it’s not really for us.

Cloud services are here to stay until the next major technology innovation comes along. If you are not taking full advantage of cloud technology you are spending too much money on IT. Cloud computing is not do it yourself computing, you need a partner. Most small business computer support teams haven’t moved to the cloud either. Shame on them for not going there and taking you with them.

 

  1. My daughter does our social media stuff, she’s on facebook all the time anyway.

Social media engagement has simply become a fact of life for any business, big or small. Yes, the platforms are free to inexpensive, but doing social media engagement is very labor intensive. While your daughter (or other millennial you’ve hired) may be facebook junkie, do they really understand your business and how to take full advantage of this new media? If you are paying them to be on facebook, twitter, etc. how much time are they spending engaging with friends and not clients?

 

  1. We back everything up on flash drives (or external drives)

First of all, flash drives were not designed for this purpose, they were mainly intended for short term storage, specifically to move data from one place to another, or a convenient way to carry software around in your pocket. Also, back-up is only half of the equation. Even if you are using an external drive, restoring that data is the most important factor. What good is your data if you can’t restore it because the underlying software went away when your hard drive crashed?

 

  1. We give our employees open access to the Internet, we can tell if they’re wasting time.

While most people would agree that surfing the web in the middle of the day is a good break from the tedium of most jobs, the biggest abuse in wasting time at work is spending hours on non-work related web sites. And it’s not always what you may be thinking, it is time on betting sites, sports, shopping, social media, personal email, and other questionable areas of the web. If you do not have an Internet use policy and a way to enforce it, you are losing 5-20+ hours a week per employee in productivity.

 

  1. All of our IT is taken care of by our software vendor.

Most businesses have a piece of software that runs their organization. Many of these software vendors provide excellent support that sometimes bleeds into other areas of your network and equipment. However, it is not their job to make sure that data not related to their software is backed-up or that your desktops and printers are well maintained. While what they take care of is a major part of your business, it is not a complete system support infrastructure.

 

Stay tuned in the coming weeks. I will be expanding the commentary on each of these issues and how they affect your business. I will also be providing studies and other material that support these claims along with solutions on how to avoid these issues in the future.

 

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