Welcome to 2016

2016
2016

Welcome to 2016, the year after the Back to the Future future. What’s in it for business IT? What are the trends and issues that we are facing, what are the benefits brought by the latest technology?

I’m still firmly convinced that the migration to the cloud will continue. For the startup it’s the quickest way to corporate quality tools for your business – only need a couple of email addresses, then why pay for a server that will handle hundreds? Use a cloud provider that scales all the way up but only charges for what you use. Online collaboration is becoming the norm, cloud computing allows this to come to the fore – use Google Hangouts or Skype to make that transatlantic call – or a local one.

Storage is still the weak point of cloud computing – it’s a matter of how fast you can get that information up there, or back down. One option is to use online tools to create those documents, then nothing needs to be downloaded. With larger files, such as images or video, then it may be that a local cached storage device will give you the best of both worlds. Remember that cloud providers have a much better chance of keeping your data safe than you do.

At the other end of the scale cloud computing can provide cost and management savings by doing away with the endless hardware upgrade cycle – management, backup, disaster recovery all becomes much more simple, and easy to budget for with monthly payments according to user count.

Whatever the size of your company, what do you think are the benefits of cloud computing?

Google Apps for work

Interested in taking your business collaboration and communications to a more professional level? Consider Google Apps for Work as the simple solution for the business startup or SME.

What is Google Apps?

Google Apps is a cloud-based productivity suite that helps teams communicate, collaborate and get things done from anywhere and on any device. It’s simple to set up, use and manage, so your business can focus on what really matters.

Millions of organisations around the world count on Google Apps for professional email, file storage, video meetings, online calendars, document editing and more.

Watch a video or find out more here.

These are some highlights:

Business email for your domain

Looking professional matters, and that means communicating as you@yourcompany.com. Gmail’s simple, powerful features help you build your brand while getting more done.

Access from any location or device

Check emails, share files, edit documents, hold video meetings and more, whether you’re at work, at home or in transit. You can pick up where you left off from a computer, tablet or phone.

Enterprise-level management tools

Robust admin settings give you total command over users, devices, security and more. Your data always belongs to you, and it goes with you, if you switch solutions.

Start free trial

Crumlin Baptist Church

One of the great things about modern web design is that it can be as complex or as simple as you like. Web sites are complex – HTML, CSS, Javascript and a host of other technologies mean that hand crafting a web site is a highly skilled and time consuming business. But for those who don’t need to build from scratch and understand how the bigger blocks fit together it takes very little time to put together a functional and effective web site. WordPress is probably the go to application in this respect for the smaller end of the SME market and for not for profits.

Having moved over to Northern Ireland and to Crumlin Baptist Church I realised that they didn’t have a web site or even a domain name. Having the infrastructure already in place it was a straightforward matter to register the domain and create a simple WordPress site. Now that it’s up and running, control over the content can be delegated to the actual users.

Crumlin Baptist Church

Always Identify the Stakeholders

STAKEHOLDER

We all know what we need when we start a new project – that’s why we start it! Or do we?

Just because we have identified a problem or an opportunity to improve a process or piece of software doesn’t mean that we see all the issues or all of the requirements. It may seem obvious, but we can easily jump to defining the problem or the solution before we’ve determined the stakeholders.

I have a confession: when I think of the word stakeholder I have an image in my head of a Buffy type character about to stick a pointy stick into someone! That’s a good image to have, because stakeholders who are ignored in a project can come back to bite you (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor)!

The forgotten Stakeholder

The most commonly forgotten stakeholder, and coincidentally the one with the longest memory is the end user. We know that there are business process experts, programmers, project managers and a whole host of experts, but no-one knows the ins, outs and quirks of your business systems like the end users!

In most business processes that have been around for more than a year or two there are tips and tricks, fixes and work arounds that never get beyond the end user – unless someone asks. These are often show stoppers when a new or improved process is considered. If there is a particular feature that is used daily, but unknown by the project experts then that is the one feature that the end users will complain about post implementation (pun definitely intended).

Search out the Stakeholders

The first order of business, therefore for any project is to search out all the stakeholders – not just the ones who have a perceived expertise in the production of the new or improved process, but the workers at the coal face, the end users who know the process because they use it daily. The problem with unknown stakeholders is just this: they are unknown. The only solution is to cast your net far and wide at the outset of any project. It’s much better to have someone say ‘no, I’m not involved with that’ than to have them complain about lack of input after the fact.

Redefine the problem if necessary

Once you have cast your net and identified all the genuine stakeholders you can then begin to remap the process. You will inevitably find that there are differences between the theoretical process and the actual. All these modifications to the originally defined process must be included in the process definition before moving on to consider the direction of the project.

Happy Holders

If you conduct this pre-project discovery process fully you will find that your project will have a smoother ride to completion. You will also find that the stakeholders will have acquired a sense of ownership that not only makes them happier about the project, but, because of the sense of ownership will also have a vested interest in the project’s success. Being a stakeholder, therefore, is a two edged sword – it can work against the project manager if he has failed to cast his net wide enough, but for the savvy project manager who has included everyone  all these stakeholders in the project will have a determination to see the project succeed.

Seeing the Wood and the Trees

Seeing the Wood and the Trees

The IT business is one that very often concentrates on details and specialities. You look for an expert with 10 years of experience using Windows 8! You want to find a specialist in Bespoke Application version 11b because that’s exactly what you use. You are looking for that person who can jump in to your business environment and hit the ground running. Whilst looking for experts that have used the same systems as you already have is an admirable starting point it doesn’t really provide the best long term solution for your business. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Hiring a specialist to jump straight in will inevitably result in looking at the trees and not the wood. Focussing on the details of application specificity and detailed knowledge may well keep you doing what you are doing in the short term, but it won’t help you to move on or consider other options. The temptation will be to always work  within the existing environment because that is what your specialist has experience of. The ability to innovate will be constrained by the vision of the specialist.
  2. Hiring a specialist may well not provide you with the best expert in the application you are using. Very often product specialists learn the product and not the environment. As such they often do not possess an understanding of IT in general or of the underlying hardware, software, logic that goes into the computing environment.
  3. It is more important to hire someone who has a good grasp of IT, and the ability to learn. Do you really expect to be using exactly the same suite of products in 5 years’ time? Software and hardware and the entire IT ecosystem are still changing so rapidly that whatever product specialities your staff or consultants have now, they will most likely be redundant in a matter of years, even if the product is still on the market it will have changed markedly from what it is now.

Find someone who can see the wood and the trees

Whatever your IT requirements, or your plans, or even your ‘right now’ need for an expert. Don’t forget that the trees make up the wood and that before diving into the detail you need to know the size, scope, nature of the wood. You need to understand how it will grow, and how that will affect your business. If that is something that you as a business owner can’t do for yourself, look for an IT partner that can see the big picture as well as handling the details. It’s much easier for an IT ‘natural’ to pick up the specifics of your bespoke app than it is for a specialist to break out of his vertical perspective to see the entire wood.