March 21 2016

The cloud simplified 02:52 pm

Marc Saltzman at the recent Growing the North conference, reminded the audience that. “There is no such thing as a cloud, it is just someone else’s computer.”  Clear, comical and concise.  To many in the audience the marketing hype was now clear and the definition simplified.

So if the cloud is someone else’s computer paying for that service is the equivalent to paying rent.  If you need ongoing rental services of someone else’s computer who is that likely a good deal for?  Yes, rent is fantastic for an occasional user.  I rent lawn care equipment and power tools when needed.  Our company rents moving equipment when upgrading the office.  The reason we don’t rent much of anything else for the office is that it is expensive.

If you have occasional, infrequent needs for technology resources rent is a great way to go as well.  Rent a server for an afternoon for testing.  Rent some storage for a couple weeks for a project.  Rent a website for a couple months for some marketing, you get the idea.

Recently we met with a couple energy service clients.  Cash flow was important.  Return on investment was important.  Price was important.  Anyone taking a critical view of ongoing rental services for their technology is probably going to find a lower cost, higher payback method pretty quick.  It doesn’t take a fancy title or high math to calculate that the cost to use someone else’s computer adds up to a lot more money than buying your own computer to do the job.

In its essence that is the cloud simplified.

September 22 2015

10 Mbps now the ‘Minimum’ for most offices 02:23 pm

How big of an internet plan does your office need? The necessary service speeds for most offices is increasing steadily. Video services, Wi-Fi services and voice traffic are placing much more demand on most networks than even 3 years ago. A new international study on behalf of internet service providers now places 10 Mbps as the minimum most users should have. This is for a single home consumer. Offices with several users may need much more.

Here in Alberta internet service providers are gearing up for the increased demand for video and voice traffic by rapidly upgrading their networks. In 2015 Telus has already completed major upgrades in the Peace River country and elsewhere to connect offices to fibre. This is great news and expands the types of cloud services and video services organizations can use effectively. Axia FibreNet has also upgraded the available government ministries service plans recently and even offers a 10 Gbps service (100x faster than the studies minimum.) Eastlink has offered great network speeds and plans for a period of time. Now with the fibre connections becoming more available Eastlink will have work to do to catch up!

At pcit we will be reviewing each of our customers offices internet service to help ensure it is consistent with this new reality that increased bandwidth is needed.

Interestingly the study by Ovum that placed 10Mbps as the new minimum also stressed two other factors to make the consumer’s experience the best. The other two areas of importance are a ‘a stable and reliable network that delivers content within three seconds and “outstanding customer service” that deals with most issues at the first point of contact’. We couldn’t agree more.

September 1 2015

Don’t Lose Your Best Resources To Things Like Paperwork 11:19 am

Could your best staff be tied up doing volumes of great work that could be automated?  It is a scenario we have seen time and time again.  The really high performers are counted on to create a great deal of work output.  And they do.  Yet in the middle of their busy workload no one has taken the time to really dig into how this valuable resource really does what they do and if it could be made easier.  Those dedicated people who stay late, put in the extra effort and are dependable can be such an asset.  It can become easy to let them keep doing what they are doing without asking too many questions!

When those high performers who get the most work done keep their heads down and plough through the next assignment without ever changing their work flow what is really affected?  Typically those staff are resourceful enough to find a way to get the job done.  But the net result is the organization suffers.

Consider the Vice President who has tremendous operational command of the organization and great customer service skills who spends 20 hours of his week creating reports.  Really, 20 hours every week?….Wow.  Another example would be the assistant we found who was behind saving 700 emails to the correct folder because she had been cross training other staff.  The assistant no doubt was paid the same whether she did this work or other more client facing work but it was the organization who was losing a valuable team member to the mundane.  The problem was this was a workflow created a long time in the past when email volume was a fraction of what it is now.

In these examples great organizations lost some of their best resources for hours each week doing mundane tasks that could be automated and simplified at a very low cost of implementation.  Tools and technology had changed but the organizations work flow had stayed the same.

Probably more than any other profession your Information Technology resources are in a position to learn how other staff get work done and evaluate how well aligned those work habits are with what is possible.  Given the right direction and process they can see the potential where others see the routine.  They know how to make the technology do the work.

Putting a program in place where your top performers spend time serving customers while an experienced technology professional observes the workflow can lead to breakthroughs.  Typically it is best to use a well rounded technology professional who may not be an expert in any one field but has a combination of real world experience and business skills.  Put another way, you don’t just want a geek because they won’t get the real business priorities and they’ll over complicate the solution.

Professionals at PCIT can deliver this service at no additional charge as part of our ongoing technology support services.  The differences can be significant and the cost is typically negligible.

January 29 2015

Wi-Fi Could Be Your Single Biggest Pain Point Too 11:24 am

What is your offices single biggest technology pain point? Speaking with some of our new customers in Q4 2014 we asked them this same question. To our surprise the most common answer was the reliability and coverage of their wireless networks. Often C level staff and key partners of the customers need a good Wi-Fi connection and in many cases coverage was spotty or unreliable. For the CAO, CFO or IT manager responsible for operations this often translated to a headache at the most worst times for the most valuable users at the office.
Getting good Wi-Fi coverage and reliability reminds me of the quote by Albert Einstein. “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler”. In this case the simplest approach is the very root cause of the frustrations.

A common approach to starting a Wi-Fi network for environments with 10 – 50 computers is to buy an access point from a retail outlet or have a single access point installed by IT. The cheaper the better right? This in effect makes the solution seem much simpler than it really is. With wireless networks it doesn’t work that way. There was a really good article from Tom’s Hardware (Why Your Wi-Fi Sucks and How it Can Be Helped) about 4 years ago that outlined why this is a recipe for frustration. Poor performance comes down to a few root causes.
a) Small office or inexpensive devices can be shown to be available for 10-20 or more users as an available connection but that is a mirage. The processors in a low cost device simply can not deliver quality connections to that volume of users and intermittent performance issues arise.

b) The wireless coverage and throughput to each unit shrinks considerably when devices are added to the wireless network. This is a different symptom of a. Some devices can not handle the workload of more than 5 users, some have their coverage shrink while others let everyone connect but deliver a lousy experience to everyone. Pretty soon everyone feels like they just checked into a fully booked hotel. The Wi-Fi connection shows it is available but good luck trying to get anything done when using it.

c) Even when a device can handle multiple users and keep the quality up what happens when an employee loves using Facebook on their personal smart phone? Just this week we seen a single employee account for 53% of the entire company’s internet bandwidth consumption in a 25 user office one day. The majority of that traffic was to Facebook. If that same employee tries to use their smart phone to the same capacity while on the wireless network a very good wireless network can all of a sudden turn into something many users start to call ‘garbage’ or ‘useless’ and more. Moreover, if the usage climbs up to 70 – 90% not only is the wireless network going to start underperforming, the internet speed for the entire organization is at risk of slowing down.

In this regard we had another new client who often called to complain about internet ‘failures’ occurring and staff not able to access their main cloud application. The internet started to perform much better when we identified there were some users downloading movies at work and others updating their iPad’s during the day. Once these habits were identified all of a sudden the internet ‘quality’ went way up.

These three common failures in a wireless network are from oversimplifying the solution. A single retail access point may have worked when 10 users occasionally switched their laptops on to Wi-Fi at work to check email. But in the world of smartphones, tablets, and laptops always being connected those same 10 users could account for 20 connections or more to Wi-Fi and a lot more traffic than the 3-4 connections that were normal just a few years ago.

To make good wireless networks work reliably and simply an organization with more than 10 staff need to manage a few simple things. First getting a business class device or devices will help ensure multiple people can connect at once and have a good experience. Wi-Fi units made for business use have proven time and time again to work better for more users and at greater ranges. The next step is to have a method to limit one user from taking over the network and consequently the internet availability at your office. The third step is to have a system in place to monitor and manage the usage of the network. With some visibility into the wireless and wired network pervasive issues can be turned into simple solutions. For organizations with multiple offices or hotels there is a fourth step often overlooked and that is to standardize this experience across all devices and all locations. Taking care of these four areas will often transform wireless network support from a pain point to a simple always available experience.

November 9 2014

A Special Invite From Cisco 02:28 pm

Cisco has invited a select group of partners from across North America to participate in their Ignite conference this year and it is exciting that PCIT will get to be a part of it.

I am expecting some unique perspectives from the gathering as the cost to Cisco and Tech Data to put this conference together is very high.  Expenses are paid for 3 days and nights at the Moon Palace in Cancun Mexico.  For a small company in Grande Prairie this is great.  Especially as winter weather has now came into effect.

Some of the attendees will be Polly LaBarre author of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, Josh Linker, New York Times Best Selling Author, Audrey Levi of IT Point (Cisco Partner who will be speaking), and Michael Perez Manager Partner Operations from Cisco.

Cisco’s product line and industry vision has amazing relevance for organizations in the Peace Country.  Their perspective on the cloud is quite a bit more advanced than a lot of vendors as they understand things like the amount of bandwidth a solution consumes matters.  In Grande Prairie fibre is still relatively expensive so solutions need to be engineered to fit the environment.  What costs $20 per month for a fibre connection in Holland or Los Angeles costs $500 – $800 per month in Grande Prairie!

Another example is how progressively Cisco views data centers and server configurations.   At another recent industry event with several IT companies in the room the discussion was around the lowest cost server solution.  Several were surprised to hear that not only does Cisco have great engineering, great support it is also one of the lowest cost solutions for rack servers.  No wonder they went from $0 in sales to #3 in the market for servers in less than 10 years.

Working with vendors who consistently deliver the best in terms of value, functionality, and security helps pcit keep a long term relationship with our customers.  We aren’t interested in typical vendor speak like you can make 25 points or 30 points or whatever points.  Often when I ask do you have something definitive from a 3rd party resource that says this product is the best it is a foreign thing to a sales rep.

So thanks Cisco for the invitation.  It is easy to accept because in so many categories we can say the reason we are recommending this product is because it is the best at whatever that customer needs.