As a devout PC or rather Windows user, I’ve remained loyal to the Microsoft line amidst tremendous innovation that has taken place across the industry. Admittedly, I’ve looked on in envy at how ‘cool’ Apple’s desktop and mobile platforms have become while maintaining my dedication to the Windows OS and Windows smartphones. I’ve watched the rise of Google Android and that ecosystem. Seemingly, Microsoft has not kept up with overall pace of change in the industry.
Today, I must announce that my envy is officially over. Why? For the first time in a long time I can truly say that I’m super excited about Microsoft’s creative direction. With a newly conceptualized, mobile inspired desktop/tablet operating system for Windows 8, and a rapidly evolving smartphone OS in Windows Phone 8 that rivals the iOS and Android, Microsoft is keen on making a comeback in the consumer world. For a company that has traditionally refrained from delving into desktop/laptop hardware design, Microsoft has doubled down on its investment in mobile by giving birth to it’s own tablet device, the Surface.
As an industry giant, Microsoft has realized it has an opportunity to remain relevant in the marketplace by revamping its image and brand. In everything from Windows to Office, they are seizing the opportunity to innovate and be a company that is ready for its second act. They’ve even gone as far to launching a new logo to go with the level of enthusiasm that the company is experiencing.
If you caught our Invizio TV: Tech Predictions 2012 episode back in December, we predicted that 2012 would be a pretty big year for Microsoft and we won’t say ‘we told you so’, but its pretty much shaping up to be the case. Microsoft is back to being cool (they’ve even launched a new logo and upped their marketing). I’m totally psyched about it and I think the world will be better place now that innovation is front and center at Microsoft. Finally!
Be on the lookout for more posts from us on the revolution taking place at Microsoft. In the meantime, enjoy this video of Surface.
Check it out! Our Co-founder and Managing Partner, Kevin V. Michael has been named among South Florida’s 100 Most Accomplished Caribbean Americans by ICABA Media Holdings, a a South Florida based affinity marketing and media company dedicated to identifying and connecting accomplished black professionals and entrepreneurs. Kevin along with other distinguished corporate executives, educators, entrepreneurs, entertainers and community leaders was honored in a reception and awards program on Friday, June 29th, 2012 at the Broward Performing Arts Center.
Whether you’re replacing an existing software solution or starting from scratch, choosing a software provider is not a task to be taken lightly, and if you’re considering a SaaS (Software as a Service) solution, there are some additional considerations to be mindful of.
SaaS typically refers to a software application that is hosted by the software company and for which to use you pay a monthly fee (Our good friends at Wikipedia have a more detailed description).
Once you start your search and selection process for a SaaS solution here are the five most important aspects to consider:
Most SaaS solutions are priced per user per month, but some are priced by groups of users (eg. $50/month for 1-10 users) or some are priced based on how much information you’ll be storing in the system. For example a SaaS CRM may price based on the number of contacts stored in the system (eg. $10/month for up to 250 contacts). Be sure to take into account future growth, and how it will affect your costs. This provider prices by number users & features but also limits the number of users you can have in each tier.
Besides not having to make a large up-front investment in software, another big advantage of SaaS is that you don’t have to invest in maintenance. The SaaS provider has the responsibility of ensuring that the service is available 24/7/365 or as close to that as possible. Read the terms of service before you commit any time or money to a solution. Companies usually explain their policy regarding up-time, so ensure that their policies work for your business model. Larger providers may have a status page, where you can check the current status of the service (whether it’s available or not) and you can view the history so you can evaluate how well the service performs. Have a look at the Google Apps Status Dashboard for example.
Another advantage of hosted services is that they’re generally accessible from any web browser anywhere but you may need integration with other applications or devices you use in your business. Maybe your company makes a product for which you provide support but for a fee, if you were evaluating a hosted help desk solution it would be important that it integrates with your billing application. This will minimize or ideally eliminate double data entry, and streamline your business operations. Some applications also provide mobile apps for accessing you data on your mobile device (phone or tablet), have a look at the integration’s this SaaS application provides.
If you’re moving from an existing application it’s very important that you can import your data into your new SaaS solution. Evaluate the options the provider gives you to import your data so you or your employees don’t spend endless hours on data re-entry. Also keep in mind that a SaaS solution may not be the best solution forever and if you ever need to move your data out of the system it should be relatively easy. Remember, the harsh reality is that the company you’re using as your SaaS provider may fold or be acquired in which case you don’t want your data locked in. This time-tracking SaaS application provides import/export options.
As always you want to make sure that someone will be there to help if and when you run into any issues. Evaluate the training and support options available. Some providers have online training and phone support while other may only provide FAQ’s and e-mail support, or you may have to pay to a higher level of support. This application only provides e-mail support make sure whatever your SaaS vendor provides is enough for you before you sign up.
Be diligent when choosing a software solution for your business and always try it first before you commit. When selecting a SaaS provider keep these 5 key items in mind when making your decision and you’ll have a much better experience.
The purpose of technology is to make our lives better and more convenient. The same goes for technology in business. So as the year gets underway and you undoubtedly look towards options to enhance the performance of your organization, I would like to offer a few thoughts on what you should consider before embarking on technology changes.
Tip#1: Prepare Your Organization For Change
There is no amount of technological advancement that can overcome our very human and natural resistance to change. In my experience, technology projects seldom fail because the solutions fail to work as advertised, but rather because of a failure in leadership to act. Before undertaking any technology, understand that the project is fundamentally about change to the way people in your organization perform their work. Projects affect business processes, systems and people. You must be willing to champion these projects by communicating with and involving the people who are affected by the change. Ignoring this reality results in systems that never get used, or used ineffectively by people who did not ‘buy-in’ to the vision.
Tip #2: Calculate the ROI
It may sound like a fairly standard business practice to consider cost/benefit and return on investment when making a decision, but you’d be surprised by how often this analysis is overlooked. Technology has to create leverage by making life for you or your employees easier, although these benefits are often hard to measure. It is absolutely essential for you to determine what a technology solution means to your team in terms of money, time or hassle saved. Does the solution increase productivity so you can do more with less? Does the solution create time for your team to focus on more valuable initiatives? Does it help you close more business? Does it mitigate risks that could have significant tangible or intangible losses? If you can’t answer yes to these questions and attach numbers to these answers, avoid justifying a purchase solely on the promise of its bells and whistles.
Tip #3: Seek Help
Whether you’re the CIO of a large enterprise or the owner of small home-based business, its important to take an inventory of the skills, knowledge and bandwidth available within your organization that will be necessary to effectively execute on a technology project. If it turns out that you will be deficient in any of those areas, you’ll need to revise your plans or seek external help. It’s always appealing to go it alone when you consider the additional cost, but I would argue that getting it done right is better than simply getting it done. Many a project has gone up in flames due to an unwillingness to incorporate skilled consultants or by forcing a project onto an overburdened IT staff.
In a modest departure from the type of posts I usually pen, I’ve decided to write this time not about tips, tricks or how-to’s but rather reflect on what this past year has revealed about how IT is changing, growing, developing in the small business space.
I think it’s safe to say that there is a definite, almost visible line that separates consumer from business technology. This is especially true for larger companies that tend to need more robust solutions for their technology problems. I can’t say the same is true for small business though; while PC makers have differentiated between consumer, small business and enterprise in their product lines for years, I’ve found that this year, more and more, we’ve considered consumer software, services and “gadget” solutions for our small business clients. No longer is it the case that software and services that are specifically tailored to consumers is “no good” for business use. For a small company with less than 20 employee’s there’s no reason not to consider LogMeIn as a REAL remote access solution versus a more complicated VPN and maybe Remote Desktop setup. The importance of having access to your files everywhere, means that we’ve walked into environments where there is no server but Dropbox is installed on each employee’s laptop. Is Dropbox specifically a business solution for sharing files? Not at all, (although now they do have a business plan, they call it Dropbox for Teams) but provided that the information being shared isn’t “three-letter-agency TOP SECRET” why shouldn’t a small business use it if it makes sense for them?
We’ve also had a few clients specifically ask us about iPad‘s; they wanted to know how and iPad could fit into their “technology lifestyle” (my quotes, not theirs). Some other client’s were a bit more proactive, and would come to us after the fact and say “Hey, I got myself an iPad and I have an app that let’s me access my desktop at the office and an app that let’s me review client files…” The great thing about small business IT is that it doesn’t have to go through tons of red tape before it’s adopted by users, and depending on what you need, an iPad my be the perfect device for you to get work done while you’re away from the office. I think for most users (especially in a Windows environment with specific Windows only applications) a laptop is still probably the best portable device, but I don’t see that being the case for much longer.
Enterprise IT has been struggling in the past few years as employee’s have been ditching their Blackberry’s for iPhone’s and Android based handsets. The IT organization has had to find solutions other than BES to manage mobile device security. Small Business IT hasn’t really had these issues around mobile device management and security. What we have come across this year is a lot of: “Hey I got a new [insert name of device here] how to I get my mail and contacts on it?” and then we have to figure out how seamless the integration is going to be between their new device and their e-mail server or provider. The truth is that consumers have quite a few options for getting e-mail, contacts and calendar synced across their multiple devices with offerings from Google, Microsoft and Apple. The fact that both Google and Microsoft have solutions specifically tailored to small business means that these services that consumers have enjoyed over the past few years have moved up to the small business space in terms of features but remained decidedly prosumer in terms of pricing and we’ve found ourselves implementing either solution where the case was right.
This portion of this blog post is brought to you by the buzzwords “virtual” and “cloud”, words which we couldn’t seem to get away from this year. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that 95% of the clients or potential clients we got in front of this year specifically asked us about “going virtual” or “using the cloud”. After hours of evaluating different scenarios, solutions, use cases etc. we’ve come to two fairly simple conclusions:
1. Virtual Desktop technology is not yet priced right for small businesses. Unless your business is currently managing close to 100 desktops, you’re unlikely to save any money by rolling out VDI. The caveat however is that if you have very basic software needs, and a distributed workforce of less than 10 users a Microsoft based Remote Desktop Solution may fit your small business perfectly.
2. Hosted E-mail and Collaboration is the only cost effective way to handle e-mail in a small business environment. As I’ve mentioned before we’ve deployed both Google Apps solutions and Microsoft BPOS and now Office 365 solutions for some of our clients. Most of these clients were previously on basic POP/IMAP e-mail service from their web host so moving to a collaboration platform like Google Apps or Office 365 completely changed the way their business functioned with the ability to share calendars and communicate using IM. It’s clear though that small businesses that are currently managing e-mail using an on-premise server stand to gain a lot from moving to hosted solution, especially where the path is on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server to Office 365. For businesses not as tied to Microsoft products (Windows, Office etc.) Google Apps continues to be an excellent option.
As always every case is different but over the past year we’ve found these general observations to hold true.
It’s heartening to look forward to next year and wonder what new and exciting technologies we’ll come across that will benefit our clients. Undoubtedly prices will continue to fall, and new small business technologies will mean that you won’t need a 20K IT budget to get robust IT solutions for your small business.