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.

August 5 2016

Congratulations PCIT Clients in Defying the Odds 09:59 am

As CEO of PCIT I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to our clients who have worked with us over the last 12 months to protect their data and digital resources.  Together we have defied the odds and won against a host of hackers in a big way.  Referencing a recent global survey by the Osterman group compared to PCIT’s operational results we find our clients had significantly less malware, less downtime from malware and never paid a dime to get their data restored.   According to the survey of over 540 global companies Canadians PAID the ransom 82% of the time and approximately 1/3 of those surveyed were forced into this situation.

If our customers had not been so proactive in educating their staff and promoting a security conscious approach we would have never gotten this far.  In the summer of 2015 our message to clients was ‘Information Technology could NOT control the security of their data and their network without everyone’s participation and ownership of this concern’.  At that point many of our clients had invested in best in class technology but were also open to taking the next step.  Together we had great results.  If we were keeping score for 2015 it would look something like this.

  Typical Canadian organization surveyed PCIT Customers
Profile 5,400 staff + a CIO, IT Director or Chief Information Security Officer + lots of internal IT staff, respondents across Canada 250 or less staff, mostly have PCIT as 100% IT resource, a few cases where PCIT is responsible for operational results and works along side -1 full time internal staff, Peace River region focused
suffered security attack last 12 months 72% 60%
Percent who last data due to ransom ware and PAID between $1,000 – $50,000 to get it back 72% 0%
Percent who lost data when they refused to pay the ransom 82% 0%
Severe downtime – It took more than a day trying to restore endpoint functionality 63% 0%
More than 9 hours to remediate 60% 0%*
Upper management and C-Level executives are at higher risk 8% target C-suite, 22% target managers Typical Cndn organization results seem very similar – don’t have hard data
High Risk 43% lost revenue, 25% stopped operations Data not available – would estimate the actual results were much much lower
Confident they can stop security issues (after all they have lost of ‘smart people’ on staff, and likely someone solely in charge of security) 51% ? I really doubt most of our clients are that confident.  Guessing results would come in under 20% as being confident they can stop security issues.  Most would probably have an internal resource if they felt they could afford it and find one.  However, these results are starting to speak for themselves.

*PCIT did have a remediation that took more than 9 hours in 2014 but it was just after C-level management requested we remove one of our recent security best practices as it ‘was frustrating the staff’.  Less than 2 weeks later 3 million files were erased after a C-level executive experienced a security breach.  Subsequent to that the security best practice was re-engaged and has remained ever since.

Results are based from an international study released in August 2016 of over 540 organizations worldwide.  Canadian specific results were also discussed in this Digital Journal article.

To me these results stress a couple points.  First, we have great clients who have been diligent in working with PCIT in this regard.  Very few push back and ask us to own the security results when we say we need everyone’s help.  Second, our ‘secret sauce’ appears to be working.   In early 2015 we began benchmarking PCIT’s security results across our entire client base and comparing it to individual customers results.  In this manner we could very clearly identify when our clients were hindering or helping the protection of their data and their operations.

Finally, I believe a deep analysis of the above table completely and totally disproves the fallacy that having an in house resource is the best way to support IT.  The facts appear to heavily weigh against the fact that that no matter how smart, how helpful, how well trained, and how well intentioned internal resources are most Canadian organizations have NO IDEA how large their security exposure is.

I can actually picture the conversation in most boardroom’s as being sympathetic to internal IT resources after having to pay a $20,000 ransom like the University of Calgary just did.  Executive’s not knowing how to manage IT try to get results by hiring, providing budget and gauging results by how well they ‘feel’ about the work that is being done.  To most managers having to pay a ransom can be excused because the bad guys are ‘really really bad‘ and they just know their ‘guy(s)’ or ‘gal(s)’ are good.  Results seem to speak otherwise.

If there are organizations who want to manage technology results by more than a ‘feeling’ we would love to discuss if our approach would be a fit.

November 27 2015

Municipal Information Systems Association – New Member 09:47 am

PCIT has joined the Municipal Information Systems Association in the fall of 2015.  We are fortunate to support several customers in the Peace River region who are members of this organization.  Much of the work to support the organization is volunteer so we expect to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

One of MISA’s objectives is to ‘provide leadership and promote excellence in the use of information and communications technology.’ We accept the challenge and hope to also be able to add value in this regard.

November 4 2015

Two Moose – Nature is Amazing! 09:59 am

Two Cow Moose Oct 15, 2015

Two Cow Moose Oct 15, 2015

Has anyone every seen something like this?  These are two cow moose who at first stood straight up on two legs and faced each other.  They then took a couple steps towards each other and then began swinging their front hooves at each other.

In this photo the two are a little bent over as they have just been landing body blows? on each other so hard we could hear it with the window down.

After this lasted for about 1 minute they both dropped and then slowly walked away with each one leading one of the moose calves you can see in the photo.

This took place on the east side of the airport fence near Grande Prairie.  At the same time a friend was driving up the west side of the airport on Range Road 70 and saw a nice bull.  Perhaps this is two girls fighting over one guy?

I showed a friend who retired from the Forestry department and has been active in the woods all his life.  All he could say is “You sure have weird moose in this country.”

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.