Archive for the ‘Business process’ Category
No business owner wants to be considered “average.” At least you shouldn’t want to be paying an “average” company to provide products or services to your organization. Just like your business, making continual improvements and challenging your team to perform at the top of their skill set is crucial to keeping pace with competitors. Those tasks are also important to ensure your company’s success, both from a short and long-term aspect.
That philosophy is no different when it comes to IT services. What customer would willingly trust their crucial business systems to an organization that wasn’t continually improving their performance—especially when they would pay the same amount to contract with a competitor that was?
At FAR, we work hard to stay ahead of the curve, creating innovative solutions for our clients and focusing on ways to improve our customer service. Our comprehensive portfolio includes the latest technologies to help you address all your business needs, including unified communications and innovative backup/disaster recovery solutions. While the research and development (as well as the extensive training) required to introduce a new service can be challenging, the result is well worth the effort.
But what does “service” really mean? The term is much too vague. Just check the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, which describes service as “useful labour that does not produce a tangible commodity.” This rather vague portrayal does not distinguish a hard-working (though minimally trained) teen raking leaves from the highly skilled and certified professional who manages complex IT systems. Few seem to understand the level of commitment, education and preparation required to support some of the most advance systems used in today’s business. That’s not to disparage the hard work provided by those in other industries, but to emphasize the differences in the term.
With that in mind, FAR is about to change the definition of “service”– at least from an IT managed services perspective. Today (September 1, 2011) we are proud to announce our partnership with Live Virtual Help Desk (LiveVHD) to expand our customer support capabilities. The Victoria, BC-based IT help desk organization will become an extension of FAR, allowing us to expand the services we offer.
What additional cost will our customers pay for this enhancement? ZERO. That’s correct–more support capabilities with no increased cost! What a concept.
What does the LiveVHD relationship allow FAR to do for our clients? The all Canada-based IT experts will handle our technical support calls and tickets, manning the controls 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Our support staff will be monitor systems and take care of your onsite needs, connected to LiveVHD through a professional services automation system called Autotask. This will give the FAR team the time and manpower to enhance the other services we provide our customers, ensuring we continue our reputation as THE premier Managed Services Provider in Ottawa.
How does this relationship help our business clients? It will allow us to provide instantaneous access to a technical resource, someone who fully understands corporate, technology systems, and other specific needs. LiveVHD can resolve most issues remotely and can escalate a service ticket to our team anytime an on-site visit is needed–a seamless, behind the scenes process that ensures full business continuity.
The end result is we get to spend more QUALITY time with our clients. We’ll focus on current business systems, ensuring that superior performance is maintained at all times, and meet with each customer to discuss how we can improve to help them achieve long-term organizational goals. We’ll spend even more time researching new technologies, uncovering issues and opportunities facing the industries we support, and understanding how it will impact our clients.
FAR can help YOU design a winning game plan and brainstorm ideas to help improve your company’s competitive position. We’re raising the bar in managed services and our clients will benefit from this new relationship.
As of September 1, 2011, service has been redefined. Give us a call and you’ll find out how IT managed services are our focus and we’re ready (more than ever) to assist you.
First, what is The Cloud?
The Cloud simply refers to information technologies that are externally hosted or otherwise “virtualized”. For example, your Web site is probably hosted through an Internet service provider. It’s in The Cloud. If you’re using Gmail for email, your email is in The Cloud. If you have “hosted VoIP” or “hosted Microsoft Exchange”, then that means your most business critical tools are in The Cloud. If you use SalesForce.com, Autotask or other software as a service (SaaS) offerings, you’re using The Cloud.
For IT pros, The Cloud is just a new way to refer to a general trend in computing (usually referred to as cloud computing) over the last 20 years to move computing resources and applications off-premise. For businesses, using The Cloud means that they don’t have to worry as directly about administering, managing and provisioning the hardware and underlying software for those applications (along with some up-front savings). There’s nothing especially new about The Cloud (except for the recent round of hype).
Is The Cloud really gaining momentum? Reality bites.
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but The Cloud is still a fair amount of unrealized potential and, analysts and vendors aside, a source of confusion for us earthlings. That doesn’t mean The Cloud isn’t useful for some applications. It is. It’s just that small and medium business owners need to be careful to set their expectations accordingly and that IT professionals need to do a better job of educating customers about what the benefits and pitfalls of The Cloud are.
It’s always difficult to predict when a way of managing information technology is going to gain critical mass. Sun declared that the network was the computer in the 1990s. If you read the press at the time, we were all going to have thin-clients on our desks. Corel was converting Word Perfect to JAVA in anticipation of a swing in the market. Things didn’t turn out exactly as expected, did they?
That’s not unusual. Lots of good technologies and good ideas never transform the market. But that doesn’t mean The Cloud isn’t gathering momentum this time around. There are good reasons to believe that there is some truth to the hype about The Cloud. Security, bandwidth, decreasing costs for computing resources and other factors are looking very good for The Cloud, but there are rarely any guarantees with information technology. For now, The Cloud is still on the horizon, and FAR is advising clients to take a wait and see approach unless they have very compelling business reasons to switch to The Cloud.
What should small and medium businesses put in The Cloud and what should they keep on premise?
This is always the most difficult question to answer. It depends on the business. It depends on their costs and business model. It may even depend on the types of customers they service (their verticals). At FAR, we work with customers to put the right solutions in place for their needs. More and more, small and medium businesses, even if they have IT teams in place, need that kind of help from a company like FAR. What is important is using the right tool to meet the right challenge, and using the tools at your disposal (whether they’re in The Cloud or in your server room) in ways that work for your business.
But really, what should and shouldn’t small and medium businesses put in The Cloud?
Most companies can divide their information technology into two key groups: user productivity and related business systems (e.g,. their customer relationship management applications, their project management applications, and so on), and their core infrastructure applications (e.g., Microsoft Exchange, their VoIP phone system, their network and so on). These are general categories and some products straddle both.
The Cloud is sometimes a good way to address the needs of the first group. For example, FAR uses Autotask to manage its professional services automation. We love it. I love it. FAR also hosts a lot of our clients’ Web sites through a virtual Web server provided by an ISP. So, these are both in The Cloud.
The Cloud is often a bad (bad as in costly and potentially dicey) way to manage the second group (core infrastructure products). E-mail, phone services and unified communications, for example, are typically so critical to many businesses and so expensive to host over even a 2 year period that putting them in The Cloud doesn’t make much sense for many small and medium businesses. FAR hosts its Exchange and VoIP phone system on-premise for this reason, as do the majority of our clients.
What key factors should businesses consider?
The Cloud and on-premise solutions are not mutually exclusive ways to solve business problems. They are two different but increasingly related tools to solve the challenges many businesses face. There may be overlap between the two in the same business process.
For example, when I wrote this blog, I wrote it using Microsoft Word on my desktop computer. Then I uploaded it as an attachment to an Autotask project for the proofreader (into The Cloud). So, even though I didn’t write the document in The Cloud, we used The Cloud during the process; now that I am publishing it to this blog, the content is officially in The Cloud again.
Even though we could have used Google Docs to write the blog (and so, used The Cloud from beginning to end), we won’t be switching to Google Docs any time soon. Why not? Microsoft Office provides us with the right cost/benefit ratio and the features that we need. That’s really the best way to make a decision about what to put in The Cloud and what not to put in The Cloud: does it make financial and business process sense?
Beyond that, there are a number of factors to account, but the big questions are usually: What are the costs? How important is this information technology to our business? What level of service does this application require? In some cases, cost-wise, it may make sense to rent an application (in The Cloud), and in some cases, it makes sense to own (on-premise). In some cases, the business system is simply too critical or too complicated to put in The Cloud and an on-premise solution makes the most sense. In other cases, the level of service provided by an external service provider can’t match your business expectations or requirements. The answers to the questions will vary from business to business and from application to application.
The FAR Cloud
As a managed service provider, FAR provides its own “cloud” to our customers (The FAR Cloud, so to speak). We take the business challenges our customers face and put in place a seamless solution that combines on-premise and virtualized products and services with our boutique level of planning, execution, support and monitoring to meet their business requirements and to provide continuous improvement. We make sure that everything just works together.
That’s really the value that good information technology planning and execution provides (whether it’s in The Cloud, on-premise or a combination): reasonable peace of mind at reasonable cost. What FAR provides customers is that peace of mind extended to the whole of their information technology requirements. Over the next several blog entries, I will be giving you some of FARs most common answers to these questions and how The Cloud can be an effective part of your business.
Behind every great business practice, there’s a great tool and someone who knows how to use it. One of the many tools FAR uses to keep our employees productive and our customers happy is Autotask.
Every business has key productivity tools and one of the most critical to FAR is Autotask. Autotask is delivered as a “software as a service” (SaaS) or what is now commonly referred to as “The Cloud”. That means that Autotask hosts the application centrally, and FAR’s employees can login from anywhere.
The same is true for all of our customers. Autotask provides us with strong project management tools to organize our internal communications and workflow, but equally important, with ways to make that process and its status transparent to our clients. The Client Portal allows clients to login and track their tickets, issues and project status any time they like 24 hours a day,7 days a week.
What makes Autotask important to FAR?
We currently have 10 employees with a plan in place to grow to 15 in Q1 2010. A 50% increase in headcount is no small task by itself. Keeping everything smooth requires regular and expected process, but also the ability to improvise in real time to meet customer expectations when necessary. Autotask helps FAR do both.
A competitor enters
No business practice, no process, no tool, and no employee’s performance is ever entirely perfect. I was recently approached by a key competitor to Autotask. I’m mostly agnostic about technology: best tool for the job is the mantra at FAR, and like any business, FAR is always looking to reduce our costs, serve our clients more efficiently — or both!
When I asked this competitor why I should switch from Autotask, the response was surprisingly anemic. For FAR to switch out Autotask for this alternative solution would have provided us with less functionality, fewer benefits at greater cost. It was a no-brainer for us to stick with Autotask.
The moral of this story: if it ain’t broke, plan to continuously improve it.
To stay ahead of competitors, your business needs to improve continuously, and that means your business processes and information technology need to keep up. Human resources, business processes and information technology all require continuous improvement.
What’s important for a small and medium enterprise is to plan and execute that improvement over time — otherwise, you end up with an inflexible business process and an aging tool set that no longer helps your employees get the job done (or, just as likely, makes their jobs more difficult and less productive). In that situation, you go from continuous improvement for low, planned costs, to rip and replace for high and unpredictable costs. Having a plan for your business processes and how they should integrate and make use of your information technology is a simple way to save money and time for your business over time.
Also, businesses should be prepared to use the best tool for the job. Sometimes that means using the “The Cloud” and SaaS, but just as often, it means in-sourcing key components of your network (like your phone system, your Exchange deployment and other business critical tools). Watch this space for the next few weeks as I plan to be writing about The Cloud, and what small and medium enterprises should (or shouldn’t) host.