Category Archives: General

What About Windows 10?

w10

Well, Microsoft have finally made their announcement: the new version of Windows is on its way! What does it mean to business users?

What’s in the Name?

It’s happened many times before: a company has used a version number that’s not strictly sequential. Usually there’s a good reason, even if that reason is commercial rather than technical. Famously the database program dBase was initially released as dBase II because nobody liked to buy version one software.

What’s behind Microsoft’s move to 10? I think there are two things behind it.

  1. There are significant moves under the bonnet to consolidate platforms, to unify the Windows experience across devices. This is to be expected in the current technology climate. If Microsoft produce a product that lives up to this promise then I think they will be justified in giving it a number 10 as it will be a significant technological change.
  2. We’ve been used to single digit versions of software for years – these things evolve slowly. But more recently some major players have been upping the ante. OS X, anyone? Firefox and Chrome are both well into double digits. There is definitely a sense of maturity that comes from a double digit version number, something that implies stability and maturity. I suspect that Microsoft had this at least in their minds as they considered the version number, and I’m sure that they believe that it is a mature product –  the justification will only come with the shipped product.

The Ecosystem

These days it’s not just about the operating system, it’s about the ecosystem: phone, tablet, web, PC – all have to work together. Apple have seen an increase in consumer purchases of Mac products because of iPhone users. Chromebooks are now becoming mainstream due to the ubiquity of Android and the Chrome browser. Microsoft are travelling in the other direction, but they have to provide an equal value proposition in terms of the entire ecosystem.

The promise of a single unified interface and architecture is a big one, but one that Microsoft may just be able to pull off. They have been providing the main building blocks of virtually every SME’s IT systems for too many years to think about, they have a wealth of experience and understanding. That understanding is changing however. Google have shown that a new kid on the block can change how people work. Google Apps for Work is doing this in some style.

The weight of existing users is still with Microsoft, and if you use any of their business server products then this will still be the most natural way to go. The Windows 10 front end will fit more naturally.

The Startup

Where Microsoft may not fare so well is with the new business startup. For these businesses the infrastructure requirements of becoming a ‘Microsoft shop’ may be too much. The barriers to entry to the ecosystem may be too high. If Microsoft can push their Outlook.com email platform across platforms and perhaps provide cloud applications for the middleware that most SMEs inevitably have then they may well be onto a winner.

Alternative Options

As has already been pointed out, there are viable and usable alternatives already out there. Both Apple and Google have broken into the operating system market in significant enough terms to deny Microsoft’s place as the only choice. However, for many small businesses it is probably still the default choice.

In my opinion and experience the Apple ecosystem isn’t comprehensive enough or cost effective enough to be an attractive option for the SME – always allowing for the fact taht there are certain industry sectors that will always prefer the Apple route. The Google offering is certainly more attractive as a low cost, hugely scalable collaboration ecosystem. As such it will work well for many businesses that haven’t yet made a decision.

Winners and Losers

In the operating system stakes there may not be any obvious winners or losers any more. The diversification of platform makes it harder to see success as well as harder to choose which way to go. The heavily cloud based offering of Google is certainly very attractive to the small business, and many larger businesses are finding it more than adequate for their needs.

I suspect that it will be the medium sized businesses that will stay with Microsoft. I think that the reason for this comes down to middleware – the bespoke applications, often developed in house, often starting with a spreadsheet, but usually moving up through Access or similar as the business grows. At present Microsoft provide more accessible tools for this sort of middleware, and a more straightforward path to building your own business data tools. If Microsoft can continue to provide this path, along with a comprehensive ecosystem to rival the rivals then I’m sure that Microsoft will continue to dominate at least the corporate desktop for a few years to come.

How Important is your Google Plus Page?

Default Google Plus Page

 

How often do you click on a link to a person or business in a Google search, or see the ‘related’ link in Gmail and come across something like this?

More importantly, what does this say about you, or your business?

What this tells your potential customers is that you don’t care. I know that not everyone uses Google Plus as a social network. I know that many potential clients or customers won’t have a their Plus account set up, but it’s expected of businesses, and if you are expecting people to do business with you then this is a really quick fix.

It’s as easy to start as putting up a proper photograph, or logo if it’s a business, and a background image that your customers/clients will relate to. Then it’s simple enough to link it to the existing material on your web site.

Make a point of browsing G+ for anyone connected with your business and follow them. This is the beginning of building your G+ presence. It certainly won’t cause an overnight sensation or drive a spike in traffic to your web site, but it will give potential clients/customers more confidence in you and your business. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

peterhollowayplus

The IT Advice Gap

the MIND

There seems to be a huge amount of confusion about what sort of IT assistance a business needs.

At the top end of the scale is the enterprise – the organisation with the resources and requirements for a huge amount of specialised IT assistance in a variety of IT sectors. These organisations are willing to pay top dollar for the right people to progress their IT projects. Often they pay too much and projects become bloated and hide bound by vested interests and corporate rules.

At the bottom end of the scale there are smaller businesses (and some of them not that small) that see IT assistance in the same way as they see garages for their cars – something that’s there when it breaks down, but not something to be used every day.

At its root this is a perception problem: enterprise class businesses can and will pay for what they need and more, but generally this is expensive because of the scale of their requirements, not simply because this level of advice is overly expensive. The smaller business as a result of this perception: that advice over and above repair is expensive, tends to shy away completely from thinking strategically about their IT resources or use.

With the small business costs are tighter and time is tighter still. As a business owner or manager, thinking about how IT can improve their business is outside of both their capacity to understand and their time to give thought to. As a result many SMEs are missing out on the wealth of understanding and advice that is available to them.

When we think of our IT requirements only in terms of support we are simply waiting for something to go wrong – a bit like not servicing your car and waiting for it to run out of oil before taking it for repair. We all understand that some simple maintenance goes a long way. This is true for the IT industry as much as any other sector, but with IT there is constant change, constant innovation and, at the present time a huge increase in tools available to the smaller business – we need more than mere maintenance.

It’s well worth knowing what those tools are and how they can positively and hugely impact productivity for the small to medium enterprise. We no longer need a corporate bank account to gain access to corporate class email. We no longer need a huge hardware infrastructure to support our file sharing or database. Most of the IT products that we use today can be implemented over the internet, providing constant access both in the office and on the road. This internet access means that multiple devices and platforms will all work: PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, Windows and Apple products.

What’s the main roadblock to implementing these sort of services? It’s the IT advice gap – corporates take advice and implement. SMEs don’t allocate resources to thinking strategically about IT and as a result miss out on knowing what is available to them and how straightforward it is to access.

For years I’ve struggled with using the term IT Consultant as it seems to bring with it the connotation of ‘overpaid high level IT guy in a suit’. On the other hand I think that to class what I provide to businesses as ‘support’ is to reduce my service to merely fixing what’s broken. I’ve tried to use the term Information Technologist because this is novel and therefore not linked to preconceptions – every business needs an Information Technologist who can see their existing setup and advise on how the present tools can help.

There is an advice gap that you could drive a large truck through and I believe that it is failing the SME more than any other sector. Is your business falling through the advice gap? Do you see IT simply in terms of support and repair? Would you consider trying to bridge that IT advice gap by taking some strategic advice?

Finding an IT partner who can help you to think strategically about your IT will inevitably improve your productivity and the satisfaction of your staff.

Creating and Verifying a Local Business Page on Google

GPlusScreenshot

One of the most important things that you can do as a business hoping to get seen online is to make sure that you have created a local business page and then make sure that it is verified. Local Business pages are designed to go with local search and your local customers will want to know that you are a genuine business. That is what the verification does – note the small tick in a shield just below right of the logo in the image above.

There are several pieces of the puzzle that need to be in place.

  1. You need to have an existing Google account. This will already be the case if you have a Gmail or Google Apps for Business account.
  2. You will then need to set up the local business details with Google.
  3. You will then need to verify your local business details.
  4. It’s then a good idea to set up a Google Plus page to go with your business.

For Google’s own instructions head over to this page:

Create and verify a local business on Google

DRP for the SME

DRP-for-the-SME

I was chatting with a client last week discussing the dreaded DRP.  For large corporations the Disaster Recovery Plan is a many paged document listing assets, resources, staff, and time frames and also defining what is an isn’t critical. This document will have cost many hours of time and much tearing of hair in creation and management. There will be required annual reviews and tests and there will be an army of IT staff, managers and auditors to ensure that the DRP is not only fit for purpose but tested and proven.

Despite all of this many large organisations slip up on either periodic reviews of their DRP or testing, or both. There’s no point backing up to a tape if the tape won’t restore properly. There’s no point in designating a secondary site if you’ve never proven that you can work effectively from that secondary site alone. The larger the business the more difficult it is to test.

What about the SME?

If it’s that difficult for large organisations to manage backups and disaster recovery plans, what hope is there for the SME or the one man band? The key is to think differently to the larger organisation. Traditionally the SME will have a Small Business Server of some sort containing critical data. This server will have some sort of local backup process running, but it is more than likely that the backups haven’t been checked or tested in months, if not years. The media may have failed, there may be no off site storage of backups because no-one has taken ownership of the task. This is because the SME just doesn’t have the resource to allocate to this sort of maintenance task. So, what do we do?

Think Laterally

With the move to more networked environments the local server is becoming more and more redundant. Why not consider either a partial or total move to cloud storage? Take your files and store them on Google Drive or Dropbox or Onedrive. You can either move them to the cloud and work on them there, or use one of the available sync applications to sync your existing server your cloud storage. Typically the space used by documents, spreadsheets etc. is minimal and will fit very easily into basic cloud allowances.

More and more of those vertical applications – those business specific applications that are essential to your line of business – are available in hosted versions. If your provider offers this for your accounting software or your CRM applications or  your industry specific applications (legal, motor, estate agency, accountancy or other industries) then investigate the possibility of moving to a hosted platform. Not only will this give you peace of mind because backup is now part of their provision to you, but you will also win out on being able to access your application outside of the office if needed.

Embracing the Cloud

Once we get our SME mindset away from mimicking big business ways of doing things and begin to embrace the new technologies and methodologies available to us we will see that the momentum is now with the smaller business: we can change providers more easily, our data is smaller and much more manageable even within the constraints of the base cloud packages. We can store emails, documents and with some work even host our bespoke database outside of our offices – available from anywhere and from many different devices. The incidental benefit of this is that if our physical place of business is lost to us temporarily or more permanently we will still be able to continue to run our businesses effectively while restoring what was lost. So let’s make the most of that small business ability to respond quicker to new technology. Let’s plan not just for disaster but for a more agile way of working, one that by default is robust, resilient and ready for disaster, and ready for continuity.