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Archive for September, 2013

Puppy Love…Really it’s about our new dog

WatsonIt feels like it’s time for me to do a warm and fuzzy post, and I have the perfect warm and fuzzy…our new dog Watson. At the beginning of the summer we decided it was a good time to add a pet to the family. I’ve always had pets up until about 11 years ago when my son was diagnosed with Asthma and we had to put our aging cats down. We were busy with two young kids and having a pet seemed like a lot of work at the time. Now that that kids are older (12 and 14) it seemed like the perfect time to bring some activity and unconditional love into the house.

We have had Watson for about 8 weeks now. We adopted him from the Guelph Humane Society, who were awesome, by the way! After we adopted him he had to stay at the Humane Society for 2 weeks for a scheduled surgery. We would go and visit him almost every day and bring his favourite toy – squeaky bear. And every time we left, our hearts broke; we hated leaving him there. Once he and his surgery had a few days to rest, we were able to bring him home, but we knew 2 more surgeries were scheduled. In 8 weeks the little guy had 3 surgeries, 2 of those were when he was with us. During our last checkup, after the removal of a small tumor, we got the clean bill of health. I could finally truly become attached to the little guy.

The last 8 weeks have been an adjustment, but I will never be without a pet again!  We have had our ups and downs as we all adjust to the new routines. Watson was a stray and is about a year and half old, so we have a few behavioural issues, mostly around other dogs, but for the most part he has fit in very well. It’s been great for me. As most of you know, I work from home and he forces me to get off my computer and get out of the house. On average I’m walking about an hour a day. I’ve lost weight and sleep better. The best part is there is some more laughter in the house. The kids love him!

For all of you dog lovers you know I could go on about the joys of a dog for hours, and for you non-lovers, if you made it this far, thank you and I’ll stop being sappy now.

P.S. if we’re on the phone and you hear squeaking in the background, it’s the dog. And yes, it’s happened.

Categories: Pets Tags: , ,

Keeping Your SMBs Happy

My last article (Bending the Sharepoint Rules) highlights some of the unique challenges SMB IT providers face. My solution may not have been the proper one, but it was the best solution for the client, and it’s working beautifully, by the way. Disclaimer: I would never compromise on the security of a client’s data and I would recommend the proper and best practices in those situations. In this case, data loss/integrity were irrelevant.

This client has about 20 internal staff and 100 employees on the floor operating over 2 shifts. They do not have an IT person on-site, nor a champion user to handle IT challenges. It is critical that their systems run automatically and without intervention. They also need simple solutions to their workflow needs that can be easily handled by the users, and a detailed “how-to”. This type of scenario is very common in the SMB world. Working with SMB’s is very different from working in enterprise: it’s never the same. Here are some of my tricks to keep my SMBs running smoothly, and allowing me to work in my jammies all day.

1. Understand their needs

Many SMBs do not know what technologies are available to help them.  Once you understand what they are trying to accomplish you can then suggest a solution that best meets their needs. Focus on what you can do to solve their pain-points and do it simply and within budget.

2. Work within their budget

Times are tight, and even tighter for small businesses. They are trying to build a business,  while paying their employees and bills. It’s tough. Once you understand their needs, make sure your solution stays within their budget. Yes, you may not always be able to install the top of the line hardware, but ensure that what you do install works well and solves their needs, and will meet their needs for an agreed-upon time.

3. Understand best practices may not always be on option

As already mentioned, budgets can be tight in the SMB space, and as IT professionals we understand best practices, but they may not always be an option. Again, come up with a solution that works, but ensure that the client understands the consequences of the decision after you have fully explained all the options and outcomes.

4. Keep it simple

Many SMBs don’t care about the technology; just make it work. That being said, they need the solution to be simple and understandable. For example, virtualization is a great technology, but try to explain it to a small business owner, and they probably don’t understand it, which means they won’t move forward with the project. They need to be able to understand the technology that is being used in their office. It’s important to keep them in the loop and involved in the process. This ensures that the solution is only as complex as they can handle.

5. Provide great how-to’s

Most SMB’s don’t have an IT person on-site, and in most cases, the closest person to IT support is someone who can make pivot tables in Excel. Once you have a solution in place, it’s helpful to document all the steps for the solution. This gives the users power to solve their own issues quickly.

As I have said before, working with SMBs is very rewarding and it’s never the same, but using my tips above, you keep your clients happy and solve their pain-points, while keeping the solution simple and on budget; and you will continue to grow your own SMB.

Typical SBS 2003 Upgrade Scenario

As SBS 2003 life is ending, or in some cases, has already ended, we need to start moving businesses off this workhorse. Today’s visit is a classic example of the scenario where we have the perfect opportunity to move the technology in the small business forward.

In this example, the office has 5 10-year-old desktop systems running XP and an SBS 2003 server also about 10 years old. It’s a basic setup, nothing fancy, but the client knows he needs to move forward. He also has some requirements for the solution.

1. He must be able to access the office remotely. He likes to travel and feels that you shouldn’t be physically tied to an office. And honestly, with today’s technologies, there is no reason to be.

2. He needs everything to be automated. This includes all backups. He doesn’t want to have to look after the technology, he wants to build his business.

3. He wants to make the changes in 3 steps. He would like to replace the SBS server, and 2 of the 5 desktops, then replace 2 of the others in a few months. The fifth system will not be replaced because it runs a proprietary piece of hardware that will cost too much to replace to be compatible with Win7/8. In April, when XP finally retires (yippee!), he’ll pull this system off the network and it will be a standalone unit. He has decided he’ll do manual backups using the tried and true sneakernet.

4. Exchange must not be used. He will continue to use his email hosting service. This is fine by me, but personally, I would rather have a root canal then deal with Exchange. At least with a root canal you can take something for the pain.

This is the perfect time to replace the SBS 2003 server with Windows Server 2012 Essentials, and the XP desktops to Windows 8.1. This new implementation is the ideal solution for him because:

1. It meets his requirements for remote access including his work desktop.

2. Windows Server 2012 Essentials will backup all the client computers to the server and we can then backup the server to an external NAS he already has. Off-site or cloud backups will have to be discussed.

3. We can easily implement this project in steps. This keeps the disruption to the office to a minimum and it’s easier on the budget.

4. Windows Server 2012 Essentials does not have the Exchange component as his SBS server did, but we could integrate with Office 365, a hosted Exchange account, or even Exchange server on premise (providing there’ll be pain relief). Using Windows Server 2012 Essentials does not restrict us to one option, and if his email needs change, we can easily accommodate the requirements.

These types of projects are very rewarding, because I know I can make the technology work for the client and now they can work on their business.

Thanks for the Support!!

Way back in August, when it was warm outside, a dear friend called to tell me my blog (this one) had been nominated for BizTech top 50 Must-Read IT blogs. I was honestly shocked! If you follow my blog, you know that I, for the most part, write about what I come across at clients’ and what I do to help them. I don’t consider this very exciting, but I do try to keep it fun and light, and I don’t consider it very technical compared to the other nominees. My goal is to help small business, that’s it! Whether it’s by introducing a new technology or reworking an existing one, I want my clients to be happy and confident in their technology, and make sure that their data is safe and secure. I hope by writing about what I have done, maybe someone else can use the same tip or trick and help their clients as well. 

Thanks to all of you who voted, I made the final list. This wouldn’t have been possible without the awesome clients I have and the support of my friends and family. 

Must-read IT Blog
BizTech’s 2013 Must-Read IT Blogs

Categories: Thanks Tags: ,

Bending the Sharepoint Rules

I had an interesting request from one of my clients a few weeks ago: they needed to share calendars, which can be done in no time, but they also wanted the events colour-coded; and they preferred it all to be done from Outlook. Oh, and did I mention we don’t use an Exchange server? But how hard could it be; we have SharePoint 2010, a Windows 2011 SBS server, and most of the company’s users use Outlook 2010.

So the obvious question is, “why not move everyone to Exchange and be done with it?” We have opted not to move to Exchange for a few reasons: first, this is a small company located in an area with sketchy Internet service and even sketchier hydro. We were concerned about not being able to access email in the event of Internet or power loss. They also have a variety of mobile devices, which complicates the matter even more. Did I mention they do not have an IT person on-site? For those reasons, we decided it was too much of a risk to move mail in-house at this time. That being said, they are the perfect candidate for Office 365 because of the reasons outlined above. Stayed tuned for an Office 365 post and why I love it as much as I do.

Now back to the dilemma at hand: how do we share colour-coded calendars with the technology we have in place and use? After some trial and error, we came up with a solution that works best for them. We created a SharePoint calendar and then attached the calendar to each users local Outlook. Great, now we can see the events, but we can’t see the colours the that the users have assigned to each event. We could do this via overlays in SharePoint, but then I would have to have each user add events in SharePoint, not Outlook as they wanted. I also wanted to keep the solution easy, so they could manage it. Creating overlays would be too much work, and, again, did I mention they do not have an IT person on-site? The solution:

Use the colour categories already provided in Outlook. We created the same categories, both in name and colour, on each users desktop Outlook. Now everyone sees the correct colours on their version of Outlook.

Sharepoint1   Sharepoint2

This may not be the “proper” way to do this, but we met the clients needs and kept it simple to manage, allowing the client to focus on their business and not the technology that runs it.

Categories: Cloud Tags: , ,

Join us to learn about new solutions for small business customers!

Many small and midsize businesses today are considering the use of cloud-based software applications for the ease, accessibility, and cost benefits they can offer. At the same time, many still need an on-site platform for a range of needs from hosting applications, to print sharing, to storing sensitive financial data. 

As our valued Windows Server Partner, we would love to tell you more about how both of these products have enabled many partners to provide valuable and cost-effective solutions to their customers. We will also have Sharon Bennett, a Microsoft small business specialist and certified trainer join to speak about deploying Windows Server 2012 with Office 365 and how you can help grow your business with these products.

Learn about key resources to enable your organization to deliver these solutions and a special offer available to get you selling today!

 

Join our 1hr. webinar on September 16th, 2013 from 2:00-3:00 PM (EST)!

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Getting back into routine

backpackAs the days get shorter and the nights cooler and the sweet sound of “Mom, do I have to go to school?” echos through the house, we are all getting back into routine. For me, that routine includes getting back into the classroom.  If you are interested in joining me at Continuing Ed (Upper Grand District School Board) in lovely Guelph, for evening discussions on Twitter, blogging, social media for business, Facebook, Office 365 or Google Apps for Business, registration is now open.

Here’s the current schedule.

To register click here.

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