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Archive for September, 2010

Small Business IT Network Solution Case Study

Background

A five year old company specializing in custom medical devices sold worldwide. At the time 10 employees were employed full time. Five employees worked in the office on networked desktop systems.

The additional five employees were outside sales reps all using company laptops. Two of the sales reps came into the office weekly. Two would be in the office a few times a month. The fifth lives in another province and is only in the office once a year.

A CRM was installed on a desktop computer then shared via the network to the other users in the office.

Users had individual copies of pricing spreadsheets and quotes were each system if were needed by another user the file was either emailed or copied across the network to a shared folder on the desktop system.

A convoluted backup solution was in place but failed when a restore was required. The backup solution was never tested.

The office had a business internet connection. The connection was and still is satellite and is prone to disruption. Satellite is the only cost effective option at this point in time. Fibre will be available in the area in a few years. The office was hard wired with Cat 5 cable and two access points available for wireless connectivity.

Also installed was one network printer, one NAS (network area storage) and a standalone fax machine.

The client requested we keep costs to a minimum to keep within their budget. They did not require or want a large elaborate system and do not have the staff or resources to manage it after implementation.

Requirements:

Easily share files between in house users

CRM must always be available

Reliable backups

Optional:

Easy access of non-confidential files (mostly customized drivers and documentation) for the outside sales reps and clients.

Allow all employees access to the critical files and CRM from outside the office.

Solution

Requirements:

We installed a server operating system on a spare computer. This computer met the minimum requirements and had limited disk space. I expected this solution to meet their needs for 18-24 months. This was 3 years ago and we are only now looking at upgrading, due to hard disk space limitations. The server houses all the shared files and the CRM which all users can access depending on their permissions. All sales reps have an offline CRM database on their laptops which they update daily and then sync with the office.

Any files deemed critical on the server (in this case financials) are backed up an usb key daily and rotated off site. All additional server files are automatically saved to an external drive daily. A weekly backup is moved offsite. Backup software for the desktops was implemented using native OS backup software. These backups are kept on the NAS. Weekly a staff member manually moves the backups to an external hard disk and keeps it off site. This requires a few hours, which can be done in the background. Once the office has a faster more robust internet connection, I am recommending they move to cloud backups with a minimal off-site backup. Until then the current implementation has worked well and mostly importantly when files had to be retrieved we were able to do so.

All laptop users are responsible for their own backups on an usb drive.

Email and website hosting are outsourced. This option was chosen due to connectivity issues at the local site. It would have also added additional costs to host internally in both hardware and administration.

Optional:

The VPN was configured to allow the remote users access to the files and the CRM. Access is controlled via the server. Each employee has an account and permissions to various files and/or options.

An additional networked printer was added and a networked 3 in 1 device added for faxing, scanning and copying.

In addition a FTP server was added using an unused Windows XP system. The internal users can add non critical or non-confidential files to the ftp site for clients or other outside sales reps to access. Clients and outside staff can only download from the ftp server. Uploading is strictly controlled.

In order to keep the costs down we re-purposed older equipment where possible. Printers and a new fax machine had already been budgeted. Total cost less than $1000 for the server operating system.

Current Status

The users are very satisfied with the current implementation. As stated above, the hard disk space on the server is running low and we are in the process of adding additional hard disk storage to the server. We have looked into upgrading the current satellite internet connection, but due to location it is cost prohibitive. We will re-evaluate the connectivity issues in a few years when fibre will be available in the area. I suspect, within the next couple of years, the company may have move to a larger location in town as they keep growing. If a move and the growing trend continues it would then be a good time to re-evaluate their needs, which would probably include a new server with an upgraded operating system and a more comprehensive backup plan.

How to Take Control of Your Unruly Outlook Inbox

At a recent meet and greet at the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, I had the pleasure of meeting another entrepreneur who mentioned she had a 12 GB Outlook mail folder. After discussing her issue for a few minutes and providing suggestions, I realized how many times over the years this same issue has come up in conversation. Email can slowly take over our lives and we need to keep it in check.

The best solution to managing your email is to manage it from the beginning, but if you have been busy (which we all are) and your mail file has gotten ahead of you there are ways to get it back under control.

First take a deep breath. This may be a little overwhelming at first, but I promise you, by having a clean and organized inbox you will be more efficient handling your day to day mail moving forward.

Let’s start by taking some time and organizing your current Inbox. If Outlook is configured to fetch mail automatically, turn that off for the time being. You will be able to better focus at the task at hand without another email popping in. The location to turn this setting off or on is slightly different depending on your version of Outlook, but you should be able to find it by going to Tools then Options. From here it could be Advanced (Outlook 2010) or Mail Setup (Outlook 2003). If you are using a different version of Outlook, then search the Help (F1) for this information.

I like folders on my computer. I have folders to organize my pictures, music, documents and my mail. Usually I start with a folder called “Clients” and have a folder for each client in it. Then I will add folders for “Vendors”, “LinkedIn Groups”, and “Family” etc. See side picture.  Having this type of folder structure allows me to quickly locate an email based on sender or content. The larger your mail file is the longer it takes to search. If you can reduce the search to a folder your search will produce results faster.

If your Outlook folder is very large or a few years old you may want to start by archiving your email, see details a little further down. You will still be able to access these files as long as Outlook is configured to access the archive folder. I usually find Outlook users who have never used this feature a little worrisome. Immediately the question “can I still access my mail” is asked. Yes, you can still access your archived emails; this function cleans up your Inbox by archiving and deleting older items, based on your criteria. You will notice in the side picture the “Archives” list. I can still access these emails; the archiving feature cleans up my older emails and moves them out of my Inbox.

If you are uncomfortable just letting Outlook archive for you then it might be best to give yourself a few hours,(you may need a few hours even if you are using archiving) and start cleaning out your Inbox. You can filter your mail into groups of like items. To do this use the Filter option and select the criteria to Filter on. There are several filtering options, I like to filter on sender or email address. Other options for filtering include, size (a typical email only is 5k), attachments, dates etc. Select which filter will best meet your needs. This will allow you to select emails and move to appropriate folders that you have created above. Hopefully the filter methods you have selected will grouped similar emails together and allow you to bulk move the emails into the

appropriate folder that you have already created. Another method for moving bulk emails is to create “Rules” (see below) and then run the Rule. You can then sort through the folder, deleting email that is no longer needed.

Attachments should be saved to your Documents folder or any folder of your choosing. Again you may want to design your Documents folder to mimic the hierarchy in your Outlook folder structure.

You should be critical of your emails, if you don’t need it, delete it or at the very least put it into a folder for archiving later. Do not put anything in the Deleted Folder unless you are sure you want to delete it. It’s easy to keep items in your Deleted folder and never delete them. You need to empty your Deleted Items folder on a regular schedule or if you prefer you can configure Outlook to Empty the Deleted Items folder when Outlook is closed. Personally I prefer to empty the Deleted Items once every few weeks.

Once you have taken the time to sort through your Inbox, the Sent box will also require the same treatment minus the archiving and moving email into specific folders.

This process may take several hours; I would suggest you break it up over a few days, as it can be overwhelming. Just don’t forget to turn your automatic Send/Receive function back on when you have finished for that session.

Once you have your Inbox cleaned up you can use the Auto Archive Feature in Outlook to further clean up your mail. Auto Archive will group all your mail based on the criteria you have selected and put into an Archive folder. I usually use the default setting, but determine which archiving schedule best meets your needs.

Now that you have spent your time cleaning and organizing your Inbox I would suggest you create “Rules” for your incoming mail. Rules can help better organize your mail by managing your mail based on specific criteria you have configured. You could create a Rule which moves all client emails to the appropriate folder within you hierarchy from a specific sender. An example from my Inbox is email from sender John Smith will be moved to the client folder named John Smith Contracting. Once the Rule is created you could apply the Rule Now, which would then apply the Rule to all items in your Inbox. This could be used as the workaround instead of Filtering as mentioned above. There are several options to configure Rules. Outlook Rules will be another post, so check back.

I hope this helps you organize your Inbox. Letting our Inbox get out of control happens to all of us, but taking the time to organize and manage it, will save you time and frustration in the future.

Categories: Outlook, Small Business IT

Hello and Intro

My name is Sharon Bennett and I am an IT consultant who specializes in working with small businesses to fulfil their IT needs. With 15+ years in the IT field I understand the unique technical challenges facing the small business owner. I will be posting articles relating to the needs of the Small Business owner. The articles will range from the “networking stuff” to MS Office tips, to backup solutions and other topics that may be helpful for you and your growing business. Please feel free to comment and make suggestions for articles. I am looking forward to having you join me on this journey.

Sharon Bennett


Categories: Small Business IT
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