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The danger of comparing Apples with Apples  

When it comes to reviewing IT services many desire to be in a position to be able to compare 'Apples with Apples'. The reasoning is always quite simple. Given the inherent complexity surrounding IT coupled with a lack of expert knowledge in the area it makes sense to simplify the selection process. By viewing all vendors through a pre-defined lens, the pro's and cons of each vendor can be mapped out side by side. 

But does this method really make the process any simpler? 

Everyone is familiar with the term 'no brainer'. By definition, it is a decision or choice that is very easy to make and requires very little thought. Decisions are easy when there is a clear and obvious advantage to one of the available options. In order for there to be a clear and obvious advantage, you need to be aware of differences rather than the similarities. 

To take the metaphor literally for a moment; suppose you were tasked with selecting the best fruit to make an apple pie. In one scenario, you are presented with 3 varieties of apples. In the other, you are presented with apples, pears and plums. The first scenario requires expert knowledge of apple varieties, the second, could be answered by a child. 

Choosing Between Apples 

Commonly we see businesses struggle with final selection of an IT provider as they have narrowed their selection criteria to a handful of common attributes. To the untrained eye, each companies capabilities appear to be almost identical. Undoubtedly this perception couldn't be further from the truth. 

The truth is that each company likely produces vastly different results and service experiences. Results and experiences that could potentially make or break the company making the selection. There are various ways to uncover these differences (see this article) however for the average individual, the only difference they are likely to understand is the price. 

The Importance of Price 

When dealing with service companies, price is crucially important. The old adage of 'you get what you pay for' has a lot of merit. Ultimately, an MSP offering services cheap is likely compromised by either the quality of their staff, levels of resourcing, training & development, or a combination of all three. 

Inversely, spending more does not guarantee great results. Whilst it is a good indicator of a business that values their time and knows what it will take to deliver great results, price alone cannot guarantee a great choice. 

So despite the importance of price as a consideration, it cannot be the primary point of difference as it commonly is when comparing 'Apples with Apples'. 

Taking a Different Perspective 

When is comes to selecting a new MSP, the devil is not in the detail. Focussing too much on the detail narrows perspective and hides the major differences that are likely critical to the outcomes you are trying to achieve. 

As an extreme example, suppose you were looking for a new car with an automatic gearbox, lane assist, cruise control, automatic wipers and heated seats. Then suppose you decided to only evaluate vehicles based on this pre-defined list of requirements. 

Undoubtedly you would end up with a list of seemingly identical vehicles selling for vastly different prices. This list could easily include hatchback's, SUV's, Ute's and luxury sedans. With nothing else to differentiate your options other than price, it would be blind luck to choose the right vehicle for your needs. 

Whilst this example might seem silly as no one is buying a car solely off the spec sheets, it is an apt description of the importance of standing back and looking at the bigger picture. IT companies should be evaluated and qualified based on their cultural fit with your organisation, the alignment of their services to your needs, and their ability to deliver on their promises. 

If the goal is to make a confident decision in selecting a provider, your focus should be on differentiation. 

Choosing Between Apples, Pears and Plums 

Focus on capabilities and quality of service rather than merely the existence of common services. By doing so you are far more likely to be able to clearly differentiate between providers. This is done by broadening your scope and asking questions without yes/no answers. Some examples include: 

  • Explain how it is that you ensure the security of your clients' networks 
  • What challenges have you seen clients have when adopting Office 365? 
  • How would you recommend we go about creating an IT roadmap? 

These questions are so much better than 'Do you offer cybersecurity?', 'Are you familiar with Office 365?' & 'Do you offer strategy and advice?' as they give far deeper insight into their services & capabilities. 

Providers that give clear, competent answers are far more likely to deliver superior results. Additionally you will be able to see who is a better fit for your organisation based on their approach. 

It shouldn't take technical expertise to evaluate these important traits in a provider. Likewise, you should not feel the need to 'simplify' the process by reducing your scope to simple yes/no questions. Instinct commonly plays a huge role in evaluating potential hires in an interview. Similarly, your instincts should be able to differentiate the apples, pears and plums

Here at Sensible, we are devoted to delivering “Sensible” IT advisory and support services while continually identifying improvements. So, you have improved business operations, more productive staff, confidence in your technology, and predictable costs.

We use the same process and strategy to help improve our own business that we do for yours- that is how we know it works, and now others know it too.

We are proud to say that the program we have worked so hard on to create has landed us a spot on Channel Future’s 2020 MSP 501 list.

The success we can bring a client by providing them with IT business consulting and solutions is what drives us, so we are thrilled to be recognised for that work. In that spirit, we wanted to share with you the steps we take in analysing our client’s and our business’ technological opportunities. If your current provider is not helping you do this assessment or isn’t asking you these questions, your investment in them isn’t paying off as much as it could. You can book a call with us anytime here.

 

Identifying Technological Opportunities In Your Business

1. Get into the details.

The first thing we do with a new client is to sit down and learn as much as we can about their business’s goals, their current technological utilisation, and where their processes snag. We look to:

  • Understand the step by step of their workflows
  • Review the time it takes for tasks to be completed, and identify bottlenecks
  • Review historical trends for workloads, efficiency, profitability, etc.

The most important part about this step is that it needs to be repeated regularly. Businesses change and evolve and implementing data points you can track over time help keep us in-tune with how things are going.

Example: Every quarter we review our budget and ask ourselves, “how did we improve profitability this quarter”. This prompts us to analyse what we were able to implement to improve our efficiency and profitability and encourages us to find tweaks or new technology that can help us continue to improve.

2. Complete a SWOT analysis on your current technology solutions.

SWOT is a great organisational framework we use to take what we have learned and categorise it into a helpful and actionable format. We use the questions provided below to help organize our information into each category.

S- Strengths: What does the company do well, what resources does it already utilise well, and how is the company making the best use of information technology?

W- Weaknesses: What processes or services could the company improve, in what areas does our competition have the technological edge, and what technology should the business actually avoid?

O- Opportunities:  Think about new market opportunities and how technology is changing. Are there interesting trends in technology that you would like to try, are there industry-specific solutions that could elevate business operations?

T- Threats: What information security threats should the business be most concerned about, how would their business fair if the technology went down?

3. Identify high impact areas for growth.

We then take our SWOT analysis and pinpoint opportunities that play to the company’s strengths, reduce weaknesses, and we note potential threats to plan for. Then we do our research to find the perfect technological solutions, create an implementation plan, and budget out the project and any ongoing service necessary.

We would love the opportunity to learn more about your business and help find you technological solutions meant to help automate and improve your business, and thus your profitability. Book a call with our CEO, Katherine Spanner, and let’s get started.

 

We are all ingraining ourselves into an Internet of Things (IoT) world that, for the most part, benefits everyone – improving efficiency and keeping us connected to the devices and people that are important to us.

With the advancement of technology, almost every aspect of our lives generates data and sends us infromation over the internet. Smartwatches track our steps, smart doorbells keep us safe, smartphones know our location, video streaming services know what we like to watch and make recommendations, social media puts ads and posts in front of us that it knows we will like, our coffee pots even know when we would like our coffee made in the morning.

IoT is emerging as a powerful tool in the business world as well. IoT devices record and transfer data, and this can be applied to monitor important processes, give us new insights, boost efficiency, and allow companies to make more informed decisions. They can tell you what is really happening, rather then what you assume is happening.

 

So, what really is the Internet of Things?

IoT is a system of interrelated, internet-connected devices that can collect and transfer data over a wireless network. By combining these connected devices with automated systems, you can gather information, analyse it and draw conclusions to inform decisions better or take action to help someone with a particular task or learn from a process.

 

How can IoT help my business?

Here at Sensible, we have had great success in improving our client’s efficiency, security, and profitability with the correct implementation of IoT devices. Having the ability to monitor, track, and analyse important data easily has given our clients the visibility they needed to make better-informed decisions and take productive action to improve their businesses.

Whether it’s as standard as finding a better way for employees to clock in and out of work, or as niche as monitoring and controlling the temperatures of food shipments while they were in route to their destinations, IoT devices can help. We can help you by making recommendations and vetting devices that could make an impact.

 

How do I know what IoT devices to get?

IoT devices are great, but you don’t want to overdo it. When working with a technology professional like ourselves, we can help pinpoint areas of your business that could be optimised with the help of IoT devices, and then research the best model of that device for your business.

There is a lot to consider when adding any device to your business’s network:

1. Is it compatible with your existing devices?
We help find a quality device that will function within your existing environment and won’t require a ton of additional work to get it to “talk” with your existing systems.

2. What security threats will it pose?
Unsecure devices that are connected to your network can create massive holes in your cybersecurity. Many IoT devices are insecure out-of-the-box and should be reconfigured properly immediately. Recently, a WiFi-enabled coffee pot was proven hackable and exposed the rest of the corporate network to a ransomware attack. We make sure that any devices that will be connected to your network have been configured to the security standards necessary to keep your information protected.

3. Does your network have the strength to support additional devices?
The more devices you add to your network, the more strain you put on it. There is a breaking point where your network connection will slow and no longer be reliable. Depending on how many devices you add, you may need to upgrade your network capacity. We can help you evaluate your existing network and determine what it would be able to support.

 

I’m ready to talk about taking a more Sensible approach to our IT, who do I talk to?

We would be delighted to talk further and discuss how we can help you implement IoT devices, or simply examine your current IT approach and offer advice for improvement. You can book a call with our CEO, Katherine Spanner, via the button below.

 

Whether you're purchasing brand new computers for a brand new department or upgrading the technology in your office, purchasing computers for your employees can be a stressful undertaking. Between different software and job requirements, personal preferences, and space and cost considerations, it can often seem impossible to buy the right computer for the right employee.

The process doesn't need to be stressful, however, and can actually play an important role in making your business more efficient as well as in cutting costs. In fact, determining the technology you use is a critical part of the operations of a successful business. Under-buy, and your employees struggle to accomplish their tasks in a reasonable time frame or have no computer at all if the device to needs to be sent away for warranty repairs. Over-buy, and you are paying for unused technology that is largely being wasted.

Finding the perfect middle ground is the key to making your IT budget really shine. This requires three distinct steps: first, inventorying job responsibilities and the employees who perform them; second, inventorying the software you use; and finally, putting together a set of minimum specifications while determining your long-term plans.

Inventory Job Responsibilities

The first step to successfully purchasing new PCs for your office is to determine what needs to get done and who needs to do what. In some companies, like law offices and medical practices, the requirements for each computer will be largely similar without any real deviations. Every employee will have more or less the same needs, and the purchasing process is much simpler because you can lump all employees into one category. In other companies, for instance printing, engineering, or architecture companies, the requirements can be wildly different.

A graphic designer will need an extremely powerful computer capable of handling the latest drawing software. Getting such a high-powered machine for a secretary who uses email, word processing, the occasional spreadsheet, and a web browser would be a tremendous waste of resources.

Also, if you have a mobile workforce, consider the weight, size of display and whether they will need 4G access in the field. Some staff may also need a touch screen for capturing signatures, or a tablet style for presentations.

So, the first step to figuring out the perfect employee PCs is to identify how many broad job categories that require separate PC purchases exist within your organisation.

Inventory Common Software

Now that you have broad groups that all require similar hardware, it's time to start identifying what kind of hardware each group needs. The first thing to do is to compile a list of the most commonly used software for each group of people. The easiest way to do this is to simply talk to your staff, or have them complete a questionnaire, about what programs they use and how often they use them. The latter is particularly important — your staff may use a high-end application, but it might not be worth buying a computer capable of running it extremely well if they only use that application every couple of months.

Keep in mind that this inventory process is also a good chance to look at your future software needs. Employees might have suggestions or requirements for software that you aren't currently using, but that might make their jobs significantly easier and make them more productive. Take these into consideration when putting together your list of common software.

Create a Minimum Viable System

Once you have the lists of common software used by the different groups, it's time to start putting together a set of specifications. This is where your IT department or outsourced IT company can really help. Go down your list of software required, and write down the highest system requirements from each one. This might mean mixing and matching the RAM requirements from one piece of software with the video card requirements form another, but at the end you should have a list that will meet or exceed the minimum level of every piece of software your teams are likely to run.

Now it's just a matter of matching PC hardware specs with your lists, right? Almost. At this stage of the process, you also need to determine how much future-proofing you might want to do — after all, you don't want to have go through a major upgrade next year, right? Some computers rarely need to be upgraded — for instance, requirements for major office suites haven't really changed much over the last few years, and aren't likely to change much in the near future. Graphics, video, and other specialised software, on the other hand, require fairly major upgrades every few years. Carefully consider how far over your baseline you want to go.

An important consideration is also warranty support. Best practice for business computers is a minimum 3-year next business day onsite warranty. As reliable as today's computers are - they still break down at the most inconvenient times and you need your staff to be productive as soon as possible.

Now that you have all your lists in place, choosing the right PC is as easy as matching hardware to software specs, and then finding the best, reliable source who will offer the right support after the sale.You should buy the least computer possible for each group of employees that you can while still allowing them to do their jobs effectively.

Remember, that although cost is always important, $1,000 saved only works out to $1 per day over the life of a PC. Compare that to the productivity gains of having the right PC for 3 years. Get that balance right, and not only will your investment last for years, you'll have a happier and more productive staff!

Setting up meetings might seem like a trivial task, but it eats away at your productivity a few minutes at a time. Online Appointment scheduling software can help you track and schedule meetings with colleagues and customers much easier. Just send your clients a link to your booking page and they can book appointments online. Say goodbye to phone and email tag for finding the perfect meeting times.

Many of these programs synchronise with programs such as Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook.

More advanced appointment scheduling solutions offer additional functionality. For example, some provide online forms that customers can use to request or cancel appointments, handle multiple timezones, link with automation systems like Zapier or even accept payments.

Some good examples are: AppointybookedInCalendly, SimplyBook.me, Vyte.in

When it comes to increasing your employees’ efficiency and productivity, technology can provide countless opportunities to streamline workflows, eliminate redundant processes and reduce costs within your organisation. If you’re looking to stay ahead of the competition, you need to ditch the traditional ways of working and implement technology to your practices to encourage more employee productivity and efficiency - here’s how.

CHANGE OFFICE COMMUNICATION

Skype_for_Business_small
Skype for Business is what we use for staff IM and video conferencing at Sensible.

In order to increase efficiency, set up instant messaging software such as Skype on your employees’ workstations. This allows them to send instant messages to correspondents instead of having to get up from their desks to see whether the person is available. Of course, if you need to discuss big projects or issues, face-to-face communication is likely the best choice. But you can simply send a quick message for more trivial conversations, saving precious minutes and allowing you to get more work done.

Another way of improving business productivity is to use Yammer.

Yammer breaks down internal barriers in your organisation by connecting people to each other and to the information they need. This way, employees can quickly find experts, get answers, and accomplish more. It is like a private, internal "Facebook".
Yammer is really good for improving innovation in your organisation.
"Organizations that use social enterprise technologies like Yammer see a 37% improvement in project collaboration."
(Bringing Social to the Enterprise: How Microsoft Can Help Your Organization Work Like a Network, Microsoft, 2014)
 
Yammer also makes it easier to stay in touch with is happening across your business. You don''t have to rely on one-to-one communications like emails any more (with emails : if you're not included in the email - you miss out on the information)

INSTALL VIDEO CONFERENCING

Traveling to offsite meetings and training sessions takes time and, all too often, time spent on the road is time lost. Rather than commuting for hours outside your office, opt for a networked phone solution that offers video calls and conferencing. This way you can hold a video conference to discuss business matters from the comfort and convenience of your office. You can also take things up a notch and equip the conference room with tools to pull up documents and have them displayed on a big screen, so that everyone in the meeting can follow the conversation with ease. New video conferencing technologies work seamlessly across mobile devices and far more affordable than they used to be.

UPGRADE WORKSTATIONS

Outdated technologies and workstations limit your business’s progress, and are a hindrance to developing clued-up, efficient employees. Aging phone systems and slow networks can frustrate your team and bring productivity to a standstill. So it’s important to take the time to assess your current workstations, applications, hardware, and tools. This doesn’t mean that you have to buy a set of entirely new workstations. But you should replace obsolete equipment with more up-to-date machines. In addition, make sure all software and applications are up-to-date to ensure maximum efficiency and employee satisfaction.

IMPLEMENT ERP SOFTWARE

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is business process management software that allows organisations to automate processes and centralise data in order for employees to collaborate more efficiently. ERP software provides employees with up-to-date business information that they can easily access and make use of. What’s more, ERP also eliminates redundant data entry and reduces the number of spreadsheets that are used to record critical business data, by storing information in a centralised database.

To get the maximum return on your technology investment, it’s also important to partner with a knowledgeable and reliable service provider. Get in touch with our tech experts today to find out how we can implement technology to help your employees become more efficient and productive.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

While some small businesses do not bother with budgets, they can be quite useful. Besides helping you manage costs, a budget can highlight areas where you might need to invest more resources. It can also keep you on track in meeting your financial goals.

Here are eight tips that can help you prepare an effective IT budget for 2016:

1. Take the Time

An IT budget is not something you can throw together in a day. It takes time and thought to create one that will help your company grow. It also requires input from your management team, as your IT systems are likely being used in many different areas of your business.

Further, an IT budget is not something you should file away and forget about once it is created. You should take time each month to check and update your budget as needed.

2. Look to the Present and Past to Predict the Future

A good way to begin your 2016 IT budget is to create a baseline budget that shows your IT expenses and income for the current year. You can then adjust it to account for anticipated changes in 2016. Examining your IT budgets from previous years can give you an idea of how variable revenue and costs have fluctuated from month to month, quarter to quarter, and year to year.

3. Do Not Try to Budget Down to the Last Cent

IT budgets are designed to only estimate where money will be coming in and going out. They are not accounting ledgers, so you do not need to account for every last cent.

Because you are just estimating your IT expenses and revenue, do not be surprised if your projections are wrong. You can adjust them as needed when you review your budget each month.

4. Align Your IT Budget with Your Company's Strategic Goals

IT systems can help or hinder a company's efforts to meet its strategic goals. For example, meeting the goal of improving customer retention is more easily achievable with a fast, reliable web ordering system than a slow, quirky one. Budgeting IT improvements in areas that support your company's strategic goals will help turn IT into a profit center rather than a cost center.

5. Budget for Hardware and Software Updates and Replacements

Many companies have outdated hardware and software because they do not keep track of when these resources should be updated or replaced. As a result, employees often use them until they fail. These failures can lead to many other problems, including lost productivity, security risks, and even system downtime.

A better approach is to use an asset management system to track when hardware and software need updates or are approaching the end of their life. That way, you can budget for upgrades and replacements. This will help you avoid the additional costs and hassles of dealing with failed hardware and software.

6. Invest in Measures That Will Improve Security

Cybercrime is on the rise, as studies by Symantec and ThreatMetrix show. However, many companies do not adequately invest in IT security.

A Spiceworks study found that 59 percent of IT professionals feel their organisations do not adequately invest in IT security. This is corroborated by the finding that those organizations plan to spend only 9 percent of their software budget, or 6 percent of their total budget, on security measures in 2016. Given the prevalence of cybercrime, spending more on security measures is a wise investment.

7. Do Some Calculations before Treating Cloud Costs as Operational Expenses

A Computer Economics study found that 56 percent of organisations plan to increase spending on cloud applications. In budgets, companies often list cloud costs as operational expenses so that they can increase or decrease them as needed. This gives companies more flexibility to meet financial goals. However, if you plan to use a cloud application for many years, it might be cheaper in the long run to treat the cloud costs as a fixed amortisation expense.

8. Do Not Postpone or Cancel IT Training to Reduce Costs

Training is a discretionary expense in budgets, so companies often schedule IT training later in the year. That way, if they need to reduce costs, they can simply delay or cancel the training and remove that cost from the budget. However, delaying or cancelling IT training can lead to more problems down the road, especially if it is security-related training for employees.

Remember, if you have the right IT partner, they will already include budgeting assistance and technology planning as part of their IT support agreement. We call this The Sensible Way to IT Management.

Call on 1300-SENSIBLE (736-742) or email : info@sensible.com.au if you would like some help with this process.

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