October 3 2016

Recommendation with instant return 10:28 am

A significant development in communication has occurred the last 1 ½ years that your organization should seriously consider taking advantage of.

I believe the benefits of this communication service are almost 100% positive with virtually no downside. In testing, comparing and reviewing competing systems it is my conviction at this point in time there is no comparison. Even more interesting is that this tool for most of our readers will be free.

The service I would like to strongly endorse is called Cisco Spark. It is so good, and currently so superior to other services if you have no current platform consider starting a test right away. Organizations with a competing solution should consider dropping what they are using and moving to Spark.

What makes this service so good and others not worth keeping? To answer this question in a paragraph would be similar to trying to describe an iPhone when it first came out to the existing smart phones that were on the market at that time. Such a comparison was hard to sum up in a few words. No doubt, the iPhone was a bigger leap forward in productivity than Spark is to other alternatives but it is similar in that there is one clear leader. I remember when the first iPhone came out a local Doctor who was very technical told me in no uncertain terms the iPhone would take over the market. I had a Blackberry at the time and thought it was pretty hip. His conviction opened my mind to the possibility of doing things a better way even though I didn’t have concrete facts.

Many reviews of competing systems are available online should you feel that type of research is warranted. I believe that describing a long list of features is likely to miss the forest for the trees so to speak in this case. A better analysis would be to get 2-3 people together to try this service and watch the results. Those tests should involve a committed leader, people who care about productivity and also aren’t afraid to adapt and work in a new way. Even better would be to start a test with someone outside of your organization. In our case, we tested the service with vendors and our bookkeeper. We tested Spark with projects and new initiatives as well. In every case the design and functionality was very strong.

For those familiar with other systems here is a quick bullet point or two as to why Spark is better.
EmailYou will save as much as hundreds of emails per week over time. You will respond faster and with less interruption to your work day. Project based work or task based work will be significantly improved if this involves communication with other parties.
Skype for Business – You will find Spark much less annoying and productive to use. Not just a little bit better but so much better it is worth stopping all work done in Skype right away and consolidating to this platform. There are so many design enhancements to Spark versus the current Skype for business it appears the switching cost is well worth it.
Slack – Slack is the leader. It is a great product. For the organizations we work with Spark is much superior as you can use Spark with external clients, contractors, and stakeholders. Files and messages are also encrypted in a manner that is enterprise grade. Even better the Spark application doesn’t hamper functionality for the sake of security.
Jabber, Yammer, Other Instant Message- IM tools and so on – You will find significant ease of use to external users. This is such a superior value proposition that the value of these tools will instantly diminish.
Webex – GotoMeeting – If you use these tools for internal communications to less than 20 people at a time Spark may be a much better tool. It has the same functionality plus all the benefits of Slack.
Whatsapp – Whatsapp like most of the tools on this list is pretty useful. With Spark you will be able to video, call, and share documents from any device in a way that is more friendly than I have ever found with WhatsApp.

Over the last year in using Spark we have faced a few frustrations with stability, feature changes and updates. Still, in hindsight I wish our office had gone with my initial conviction to standardize on this service right away. Instead, I kept trusting competing products were ‘good enough’. Somehow I doubted this product was the leader it seemed to be and that some ‘missing’ feature was worth having. Over that period internally I faced feedback like ‘this was just another tool’ and doubts that Spark’s competitive edge would pass. So far Spark has maintained its big lead. To gain a similar lead visit here or ask PCIT to help with the initial installation.

May 14 2016

Stop hundreds of hours of computer input 10:16 am

The wave of automating workflows is rising with every passing day. For 10 years large organizations have been steadily marching towards removing manual repetitive workflows. Now with an economic slowdown in many sections of the economy interest is rising across organizations of all sizes how to lower their operating costs. In the current environment the cost of not automating is rising. Centre 2000 and the Chamber of Commerce offered a great venue to introduce what we consider a leading platform to automate some of the most common areas of repetitive manual input.
Our event was focused on how organizations in Grande Prairie can use automation to cut operating costs without cutting service levels or product quality. In our discussions with many local organizations it is not uncommon to be able to lower monthly operating expenses by $1800 – $4,000 per month. Implementation time is typically in less than 30 days.

Meeting room in Grande Prairie

Centre 2000- Chamber of Commerce meeting facility

April 5 2016

Coolest Tool Seen this Year 04:50 pm

Does anyone really need a robot to help attend remote meetings?  At first I was skeptical.  Our Network Engineers said that our client had ordered one because they saw it at their corporate Head Office in action.  Next it showed up at our clients office.  The engineers came back and said it was very cool.   I was still unsure.

A couple weeks later we had a meeting scheduled to try and offer some insight regarding collaboration platforms.  As we were onsite waiting for our scheduled meeting in came Carmen.  Actually Carmen was in Fort St John, but in came the robot with Carmen on the screen.  She saw us first and said something like ‘Oh Hi, I guess I’m a little early”.   Next she drove the robot, with her face on the screen, through the boardroom door, around the boardroom and took her place across the table from us.  The whole time Carmen was talking away and very gracious with some of our questions.

The ‘Wow’ factor was definitely happening.  We continued to learn about some of the features and were introduced to how she uses this very cool robot called a Beam .  For a good video  try this review.

The most memorable part of the meeting for me came a little later.  Carmen leaned into her webcam part way through the meeting and turned the beam a little bit to look and engage with a co-worker who was sitting beside her.  It was just like a human would do it.  Except she was 200km away at a remote office and the robot was doing part of the motion on her behalf.

On March 7 we also heard Cisco has a very cool robot used for remote meetings and connections.  She is called the Ava 500.  A little sturdier than the Beam, and no doubt a very well designed machine.  Can’t wait to meet someone over it as well.

The Beam made a great first impression on me.  Easily the coolest tool seen so far this year.   For as low as $2,000 USD your remote offices can be connected like never before.

Cisco telepresence robot

Cisco telepresence robot

Telepresence with robot

Beam Meeting in Action

February 11 2016

A Fast Way to Cut Costs – Process Automation 02:08 pm

Organizations looking to cut costs right now should take consistent steps to look at process automation.  After starting to review our customer’s environments the past six months we have found numerous examples where people are working really hard but are not leveraging all the tools at their disposal.  This is a bit of an understatement.  Really what we have seen is people doing work on their computer and wasting a lot of time because they didn’t know there was a better way.  Our definition of wasting time is anything that takes over 2 hours per month and is repetitive type work.

Some specific examples were legal assistants and their lawyers spending 5-10 hours per week sorting emails.  We automated the process and freed up a lot of billable time.  Another example was where customer usage data was being input from one software program to another.  We took one look at that workflow and decided manual time entry was wasn’t worth the 4 days it took.  The two software vendors agreed upon a standard format and an automatic import process was put in place.  Not only did the process reduce from 4 days to less than 2 hours accuracy improved.  The person responsible can now focus on creating more value versus data entry.  Other examples include how data is transferred from field work to back office administration.  Making this data available in an electronic fashion is often very cost effective.

Our biggest win has actually turned into the creation of a brand new product.  We expect to be able to save most organizations $20 – $140,000 in operating expenses while improving both accuracy and customer service.   This product will be announced Feb 2016 and we look forward to how it will help so many of our customers cut costs.

To get started we suggest simply guessing where the areas of biggest waste are or where people may be spending more than 2 hours per month doing simply routine work.  Having someone who is well rounded in technology and work observe what is happening and documenting the workflow is an excellent starting place.  If the observation yields a process improvement idea great.  If not, at least the process is documented which can be used to enhance the operations manuals already in place.   Once that workflow is documented the technology person can move onto the next suspected area of automation as time permits.

One of our biggest lessons learned in this process is to baseline measurie the current manual time intensive process and cost.  Without that in place it can be easy to overlook how much improvement takes place over time and think that all this automation work is just nice to have.  For most organizations saving time in workflows amounts to saving time related to one of their largest expense categories and that is the payroll expense.

If no qualified resources are available pcit can supply experienced professionals to assist.  We also have many many ideas how our customers can streamline their processes and cut costs using the tools they already have.

January 4 2016

When to Upgrade to Windows 10 – For the Office 04:40 pm

Using Windows 10 for several months now has been generally a pleasant experience at the office.  We thought providing readers with feedback regarding when and how to upgrade in an organization may help many of our customers effectively plan and use Windows.

Before tackling when and how to upgrade let’s think of the last 10 years.  Since it is the first day back after closing 2015 reflection seems appropriate.  In that time period most offices have gone from Windows XP, to Windows 7.  This is a significant change but it in no way matches the changes that have taken place with smartphones and cloud services.  I would believe that most of our customers who for some reason or another use a computer at work have also gotten accustomed to iOS products from Apple like the iPhone or iPad over the last 10 years.  Many may also remember using a Blackberry (joking).  Several more have probably used an Android device.  Across this whole cross section of end users we also know many have tried some form of cloud service that involves using a program via an Internet Browser.  This could be anything like Salesforce, ADP, Bellamy, Gmail and more.

My point to this reflection is that changes to the Operating System are not nearly as significant to the user’s productivity anymore.  A great new feature in the Operating System will typically not make the average user significantly more productive.  Neither will a poorly designed feature cost someone significant time and frustration.  In short, most of us have ‘gotten over’ so much change or at least reluctantly live with it.  (I haven’t mentioned Windows 8 – which we actively tried to prevent being deployed in our Customer base. As the CEO I never could really figure out how to use it and that seemed to speak for itself.)

So when we say it is better than any other Operating System for our customer’s to do business with let me put that in context.  It is probably not $500 worth of improvement.  Given the cost of a new Operating System is $99-$200 and a typical deployment takes 3-6 hours per computer the total cost per user is likely around $500 for many organizations with under 200 users.   We like Windows 10 but if it was our money this upgrade isn’t THAT much worth it.  We believe our customers could typically take that same $500 spend and do something far more value generating.

So this leaves us with the economics of upgrading coming down to when.  If it’s not valuable now when would the upgrade be valuable?  In this regard we believe staying with a 20-25% PC refresh rate every year is a fantastic time to upgrade the Operating System.  Sure we don’t get the efficiencies of deployment down to 1-2 hours per user by automating everything all at once.  But as already mentioned neither can we understand how our typical customer gets a significant payback by putting everyone on a new Operating System at $500 a user.  If the customer ends up with a few mismatches in the PC fleet both they and their provider can manage this variance with a little bit of automation or some old fashioned documentation.  Even IT over the last 10 years has learned better how to get over all this change ….

In regards to exciting new feature the Operating System comes with two internet browsers.  We so far have found a lot of applications and sites don’t work with the new browser called Edge.  A lot of customers also use Chrome as a browser and many also use Firefox.  Having to manage security loop holes for 4 browsers is an interesting challenge.  Let’s hope that doesn’t come back and cause security issues for our clients.

The improvement in BitLocker encryption technology is a welcome change for Professional grade Operating Systems.  Our clients may not get hostile with us if we try this security technology though we haven’t field tested it.  Other encryption products we have tried have almost had pcit ‘walk the plank’ so to speak.  Not having to worry about all the laptop users who may have data that should not be splattered across the internet should be a stress reducer with our clients.

Several of our customer’s bypass the encryption concern by simply access virtual applications when working remote.  None of the date in this regard resides on the laptop so corporate data is not at risk should the laptop be lost or stolen.

The other really nice features with Windows 10 comes with the ENTERPRISE version.  If your organization has over 50 branch office users and wants sharing data between offices to be much faster than we should talk about the value Enterprise may deliver.  In this case a rollout beyond the typical 20-25% refresh cycle each year could be value generating.

In summary, we believe Windows 10 should be a part of every organizations future. At the cheapest price possible for organizations with under 200 users likely means a phased deployment over 1-4 years. If someone really wants to see productivity jump or costs be cut our immediate recommendations are to look elsewhere in areas like application development or automation technologies.