Small Steps – Giant Leap

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Well durr…Right!?

And yet, while this measured approach might seem most sensible, when it comes to IT system implementations, it’s all too common to see wholesale changes being made. Grandiose plans are made for new ERPs or CRMs or your TLA of choice, and hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars are spent replacing something that often as not has run a business for many years and may only have really needed a few, occasionally significant tweaks, here of there to keep it upright for another decade.

Of course, the all or nothing approach is sometimes justifiable, just as some houses are better served being knocked down and rebuilt rather than sympathetically restored or renovated, but sadly, the IT industry is rather prone to offering up a serving of alleged silver bullets to encourage the former.

As I’ve written before, vendors are in the business of being in business, and they’re only too happy to sell you this year’s super trendy, latest and greatest solution to exactly the same set of problems that you’ve been addressing for many years.

And that of course is the elephant in the room.

The IT issues that SMEs face today are largely the same as those of yesteryear, so when we focus our attention on consuming this particular elephant, we would be well advised to think about adopting an incremental approach.

Big changes typically come with big prices both in terms of money as well as business interruption and while they may promise nirvana, the reality is often a little less desirable.

Small changes, however, may only result in a small improvement, but they typically cost very little and have next to no impact in terms of business interruption.

And if we make enough small changes, we can reap an enormous reward.

Here’s another perspective on making small changes to achieve excellent outcomes.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Before spending big on new solutions, be sure you’re getting the most out of your current systems


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5 Principles of IT for SMEs – #2 – Assistance

Most SMEs have few, if any, IT technical staff on site, and most CEOs are not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to IT. While they might be quite handy with Excel, and may even be able to knock up a quick macro, an understanding of how best to apply technology to solve the issues of their business is something typically left to specialists, and all too often an afterthought.

Fortunately, and despite the incredible variety of organisations, you won’t be surprised to find that they share many similarities when it comes to their technological needs. Each is of course subtly different, so implementation details will vary, but there are patterns of requirements and behaviours that repeat across all industry sectors.

To help CEOs better understand their systems and the effect they have on their business, MarshallFloyd has developed the FASES methodology. This framework applies 5 key principles when reviewing IT assets.

They should provide a Foundation for your business and Assistance for your team. They should Simplify your activities, help you Engage with your customers and become a pillar of Strength over time.

Here’s a quick look at the second of these.

Assistance

If Foundation is all about your business dreams and organising your IT so that you can ride off in to the metaphorical sunset, Assistance is all about the people who are actually going to do the hard work to deliver them. These are the girls and guys that occupy your accounts, customer service, manufacturing, warehouse, delivery, payroll and HR departments, to name but a few.

Whether these people sit in front of a computer all day, are just occasional users, or almost never touch a device, they all have one shared requirement.

They all need access to accurate, organised and up to date data and they will almost certainly need it now. Tomorrow they will doubtless want it faster.

Not that much has changed

While the computing world continues to evolve and today can deliver a dizzying array of information almost anywhere in the world almost immediately, the fundamental activities of business computer systems remains largely unchanged. In fact, we can distill 50 or so years of corporate IT advances in to 3 basic activities.

  1. Reading and writing data to a storage device.
  2. Manipulating data programatically.
  3. Presenting data on a screen or an alternative medium e.g. a piece of paper.

What was once a 24 x 80 green screen is now the latest trend in browser based applications, but much the same data is still maintained by people sitting in front of a keyboard and screen.

Business basics

IT hasn’t changed much because business hasn’t changed much. Yes, it’s quicker and we’re more connected, but business is still business and it’s still run by people. So when we start looking at IT requirements and assets, and the Assistance that they provide, we can ignore the intricacies of modern technology, get back to basics and ask two simple questions.

How will this help my team become more efficient? How does it add value to my business?

Some readers will at this point be muttering under their collective breath about how a particular system they once work worked with (or perhaps still do) has complicated what used to be a simple manual process. And they may well have a point, but then, they may also be amply highlighting the very point I’m making.

If it takes longer than it used to we must ask why. Is it because additional data points are now being stored that will benefit the business when we analyse the data, or is it simply a poor design? If it’s the latter, why are you wasting time and money?

Without posing the questions, how can we know?

Needs and wants

Providing Assistance to your team means that you must address their needs first and there are many requirements to assess.

You might start by looking at the hardware they’re using. It may be tempting to save few dollars by buying something inferior, but how much time does it cost your team? And you can ask the same questions of your software, servers, networks and internet connections too. After all, you can drive a car in second gear all the time and still get to your destination.

What about training? It’s easy to fall in to the trap of assuming staff will pick up systems as they go along. Most do, but they often find a path to success more by luck than judgement. What does it cost downstream when a second or third person is required to fix the mistakes from before?

When you implement new systems, do you encourage adoption. Do you promote their use and try to generate excellent user engagement? Or do you send them on a quick training course and leave them to it?

Are the software applications themselves usable, or are they poorly designed, with cluttered screens, difficult navigation and poor integration?

Are they getting enough information via your reporting mechanisms? Is it in a format that serves their needs? Is it available when they need it?

Have they been educated with regards to cyber security?

Implementation

Your team needs to be fully conversant with the tools they’re using and the tools need to be efficient and usable. Without this, staff become frustrated and inefficient, increasing staff turnover and costing you time and money.

Information Technology is often incorrectly perceived as a cost, but it should never be the case. An appropriate IT system correctly implemented should always be an asset and should make money for the business.

IT is only ever a cost when it is poorly implemented.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Invest in your people and they will pay you back many times over.


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5 Principles of IT for SMEs – #1 – Foundation

Most SMEs have few, if any, IT technical staff on site, and most CEOs are not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to IT. While they might be quite handy with Excel, and may even be able to knock up a quick macro, an understanding of how best to apply technology to solve the issues of their business is something typically left to specialists, and all too often an afterthought.

Fortunately, and despite the incredible variety of organisations, you won’t be surprised to find that they share many similarities when it comes to their technological needs. Each is of course subtly different, so implementation details will vary, but there are patterns of requirements and behaviours that repeat across all industry sectors.

To help CEOs better understand their systems and the effect they have on their business, MarshallFloyd has developed the FASES methodology. This framework applies 5 key principles when reviewing IT assets.

They should provide a Foundation for your business and Assistance for your team. They should Simplify your activities, help you Engage with your customers and become a pillar of Strength over time.

Here’s a quick look at the first of these.

Foundation

Unless you have the simplest of business models, the fact of the matter is that you’re almost certainly running a digital business. Whether you like it or not, and whatever you consider your core activity to be, the people whose wages you pay will be dependent on technology, directly or indirectly, to be able to do their job.

If you’re not convinced, get everyone to turn off their computer, shut down your website, and see how long you keep going.

So, now that we’re in agreement, you can understand why step one is Foundation.

What’s It All About?

Actually, let’s start with what it’s not about.

IT’S NOT ABOUT COMPUTERS!

OK, so they’re involved and they may get a mention or two, but the point is that you don’t need to be an IT geek to understand this stuff, any more than you need to be a mechanic to drive a car. They’re just tools that we use to do a job in exactly the same way that a fleet of delivery vehicles does its job.

So what is it about then?

Glad you asked. Foundation is about one simple idea. It’s about your imagination and what you want for your business. That’s it. Nothing more. Just that one simple statement.

Some of you will have just spotted the enormous great elephant that’s occupying your particular room, realised you’ve missed the blindingly obvious and now understand that you’re not actually that sure what you want: and there’s the rub.

Unless you know what you want, how can you possibly go out and get it?

Getting Organised

Building a Foundation requires that you understand both where you are and where your business is heading so that your IT can enable it.

If you intend to double your turnover in the next 3 years, you’ll doubtless have thought about increased marketing exposure, staffing requirements, needing more office or manufacturing space, additional warehousing, vehicles, shops and so on. But can your systems cope with double the amount of data? Will your web storefront buckle under the strain of the increased demand?

If not, what’s your plan to ensure continuity?

And many of those extra hands are going to require keyboards and PCs. Networks and servers may need upgrading. Who are you going to buy all this stuff from and who’s going to keep it running smoothly?

If Only You’d Been Organised

3 years down the line, your business plans come to fruition and you have indeed doubled your turnover.

So what’s the plan now that you’re there?

Do you know who you sold to?

Did your profit increase?

Did your profit per person increase or are you working harder for your money?

If you’d thought about it 3 years ago, you might have taken the time to ensure that your systems recorded enough data about your prospects, customers and their interactions for you to be able to glean important market data about them. You might also have recorded some metrics so that you could assess the performance of your systems and team, perhaps get a sense of staff productivity and effectiveness.

Still, not to worry. Perhaps you can do it in 3 years time.

Strategy

As I said, this is not about computers. They are just the tool, the means to the end. They facilitate the delivery of strategic business outcomes.

Building an IT Foundation demands that you know what you want from your business, and to be able to make the right decisions you need to know everything there is to know about your clients, your team, every transaction and every interaction.

However, thinking such as this may not come easily for many SME CEOs who often consider IT to be a drain on resources rather than a source of profit.

But come it must!

Why? Because knowledge is power, and guessing has been proven to lead to less than desirable results.

It’s 2018 and artificial intelligence is on the rise. Machine learning is all around us and while today the big end of town is the main beneficiary, the landscape will undoubtedly be different tomorrow and many wonderful opportunities will abound for those SMEs who’ve built a solid Foundation and recorded as much data as they can, regardless of how trivial it may appear.


Today’s Top Takeaway

Review your IT regularly. You can only plan a journey if you know where you’re starting.


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3 Reasons Why You Should Buy an Extended Warranty

  1. They’re not as expensive as you think they are
  2. They’re almost certainly cheaper in the long run
  3. You get peace of mind

I’ll explain

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Ahh…the ever contentious subject of the extended warranty.

As ever, there are plenty of opinions, and a quick search will find many commentators. Not surprisingly, there are those who are robustly in favour and those who are just as enthusiastically against, typically considering it to be a waste of money.

So, let’s consider the purchase of a laptop around $1600. Such machines are very common in the workplace or home and they come with 12 months protection. If we use Dell as an example, extending the standard 12 month warranty to 4 years next business day on site maintenance will set you back another 25% or so of the purchase price.

So, for simple maths and to save me needing a calculator, let’s say our $1600 laptop now costs $2000.

What’s The Point?

Now, what we need to understand is the purpose of a warranty and the value that it adds.

Yes!! THE VALUE THAT IT ADDS.

If, as so often seems to be the case, you’ve simply extrapolated the numbers, worked out that 100 machines in the next 4 year cycle will cost another $40K, and immediately had a fit of the vapours, you’ve kinda missed the point somewhat.

As ever, you need to get your face away from the glass, stand back, and have a good long look at what’s going on from the correct point of view.

So, where’s the value?

Firstly, It’s Not $40K

It’s only $40K if nothing goes wrong with any of your machines in 4 years. But things will break. Life’s like that. In fact, according to the vague stats I was able to dig up, ~20% will develop a fault of some sort during their 4 year lifetime. Still, I’ll be generous and say that you had a decent run and only paid $20K in service fees and parts.

Excellent news, you’ve saved $20K over 4 years, or $100/week.

Or Have You?

Maybe, but probably not. Most likely is that you spent a fair bit more. It just wasn’t in cash.

Assuming you bought from a large reputable supplier, something all SMEs should be doing, the engineer is more likely to be familiar with the machine and he’ll likely have access to a warehouse full of spare parts that can be made available very quickly. This means he’ll be more likely to diagnose the fault correctly and more likely to have your machine back up and running with new parts as required.

However, a third party may well need to spend additional time working out what’s going on and ordering parts, assuming they’re still available.

Now, it’s hard to determine the precise value of staff productivity, but every hour spent focused on something other than their job is undoubtedly a cost, so anything you can do to have them up to speed again as soon as possible is a good thing.

$100/week for your 100 machines is beginning to sound like a bargain if it’s being spent to maximise your team’s efficiency.

Minimal Interruption

Inconveniences like this can of course be mitigated, and a spare machine or two lying around never did any harm, but we’re still well advised to have our issues remedied as quickly as possible.

And that’s the really the point of a warranty. It doesn’t guarantee that your machine will be up and running next business day, but it does greatly increase the chance of that being the case. And for those of an “IT is a cost” disposition, having a warranty in place also means that there’s no excuse for avoiding expensive repairs.

And from a financial point of view, while spending a grand here and a grand there to solve issues as they arise is unlikely to put too much of a dent in the cash flow, it is something that can be avoided. It’s one less bill to pay; one less transaction to manage; one less interruption.

No Surprises

If you ask a builder, he’ll tell you that variations always cost more and take longer. If you ask a chef, he’ll tell you that service runs much smoother if every meal is as per the menu. Business it seems runs at its most efficient when things are predictable.

And this begs the question as to why you’d choose to complicate a simple process by trying to save a few dollars up front? The most likely outcome is that it will cost you more in the end. Wouldn’t it just be far simpler to call your point of contact, provide the necessary details, and wait for the cavalry to arrive?

You get your problems solved in the most efficient manner and you have the knowledge that there’ll be no nasty surprises when the bill comes.

Peace of mind for $1/machine/week?

Excellent value!


Today’s Top Takeaway

Always consider the total cost of ownership. It’s nearly always so much more than it appears at first glance.


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MarshallFloyd – Your Virtual CIO – Download our free guide with over 100 tip, hints and ideas you can use to improve your IT.