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Homework…it’s not what it used to be

Jamie at 2

Jamie at 2

Think back, way back, to high school. For me, it was all about big hair, parachute pants, and blue mascara. Now that you’re sitting there feeling the teenage angst and acne, think back to when you had partner or group projects. You had to figure out who’s house you were going to and how you were going to get there. Just getting the group together to work on the project was a project in itself. Well that is quickly changing.

As some of you know, I have a daughter in Grade 9. She’s been on computers since she was in diapers.  or her, the computer is just a tool. We’ve been lucky in elementary school that her teachers have always encouraged the use of computers (not so much for my son who’s still in elementary school). I have been pleasantly surprised on how much she has been able to do online in high school. She accesses her textbooks online, submits her papers, and even music compositions, via the school private cloud. Her teachers upload her marks to a secure website which the parents have access to. But last was the first time I had noticed her collaborating on a paper online. Yes, she chats with her classmates and they have emailed papers back and forth, but tonight I noticed she was editing a document real time using the school board’s Google Drive cloud. Her classmate was on the phone and they were discussing the changes and editing on the fly together, and they could see each others edits. For my daughter this not new, she is my editor (you read her work whenever you read one of my blog posts), and we co-edit pieces all the time, but this was the first time I had seen her do it with a classmate. She and my son are usually way ahead of their peers when it comes to technology, and they are usually helping their classmates, and sometimes teachers, with technology in the classroom.

The one thing that puzzles me about last week was why on earth were they using the phone? Talk about old-fashioned.

Categories: Cloud, Education Tags: , ,

Is the cloud really that scary?

As I sit here putting together a presentation for this week on Office 365 (another great product), I know I’m going to get some questions about cloud technologies and subscription-based services. I love cloud-based technologies, but I do understand the hesitation. Here’s a list of the most common concerns I hear and my responses:

1. What is cloud? Ok…now I think my industry has done the general public a huge disservice. We (not me in particular) have made the cloud into this magical fairy dust and rainbow place, that is just out there. NO! In basic terms, the cloud is just servers sitting at a datacenter. Nothing magical there. IT, as an industry, has stop turning technology into a magical thing. Yes, what we do with technology can seem like it’s magic, but it takes skill and hardware, not fairy dust.

2. Is cloud safe? Yes! As long as you choose a reputable provider. Personally, I wouldn’t purchase cloud services from a company I didn’t know. Stick to the big names and you should be fine.

3. Are they reading my data? I don’t know the answer to that. I like to think my data is more secure at Microsoft or Google then on a USB stick that I left in a clients system. This would be up to you to determine what you want to store at these sites.

4. Do I need an Internet connection? For the most part, yes, you do. But depending on your solutions provider, you may have offline access.

5. Why is it subscription-based? Overall, IT is moving to a subscription-based model. For a small business, this planned expenditure eases the burden of unforeseen expenses. Remember, you are not only getting the service, but also the infrastructure behind it. Your small business no longer has to worry about purchasing the hardware, hiring technical staff, updating the server, or dealing with hardware issues. This is all part of your subscription fee.

6. Does the cloud service cost less than the on-premise solution? Sometimes, but again it depends on the solution provider. In the example of Office 365, with the level of functionality that is available, the small business used to be only available to the business that could afford to have everything in house, including IT professionals. With the subscription-based model the “big business” tools are available to the small business at a fraction of the price.

7. Is cloud just a phase? Personally, I don’t think so. If we look at how much we do online compared to even 3 years ago, it’s staggering. Take a moment to think about how much you do online every day both at work and at home. Could you work if you didn’t have Internet?

Cloud solutions are great, but they may not be the right solution for your company. Talk to your IT professional and they will be able to help you determine if it’s time to move the cloud.

Categories: Cloud, Customer Satisfaction 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: , ,

Email Affairs – My Version of “50 Shades of Grey”

Gmail Intro

My first kiss with Gmail.

I have a confession.

As you may know, I am in a committed relationship with Gmail. I met Gmail about 5 months after he launched, back in 2004. Gmail and I have been together for almost 9 years now. It’s been a great relationship. He gives me lots of email storage, and a great interface. As our relationship grew, he gave me a wonderful calendar, then communication and collaboration tools. Yes, there have been some disappointments in our relationship, such as Google Wave, but there have been some great fun times too like “do a barrel roll”. (Really, if you haven’t done this, go Google it now.) Gmail has always had my back, he automatically saved all my documents at his house, with his brother Docs. (It’s a great app called Google Cloud Connect; unfortunately it broke when I moved to Office 2013.) Gmail kept all my information safe and secure there and he gave me the key so I could access my stuff when needed. He understood what I needed, and he even provided the directions for me to get there. He gave me great communication tools and an easy way to share my stuff. It was the perfect relationship. We even expanded our family when I added Google Apps For Business.

But, like I said before, I have a confession. I’ve been seeing someone else. I never intended to have these feelings, but they crept up on me.

You see, way back in 1997, Microsoft launched a fresh new email host called MSN Hotmail and I signed up for an account. Now, this was several years before Gmail stole my tech heart. There may have also been a short stint with Yahoo mail during this time (I don’t talk about it much). For those of you too young to remember, in the early days of email service, it was all about experimenting with different services, and not committing to just one. We were all so young and had multiple email accounts at the time. Gmail and I seemed to click, so settled down with him in 2004.

Every so often, over the years, I would check in with Hotmail and see what he was up to. Did he settle down, expand his offering? You know, the general stalking of a previous love. At first, it looked like Hotmail kept the status quo. Nothing new and exciting. But his sexy younger brother, Office 365, was breaking some new ground with small business. I have to admit, a new technology targeted right at my clients caught my interest. Not only did Office 365 target small businesses, but it also had a built-in relationship with my guilty pleasure, Microsoft Small Business Server. This was getting interesting. Then things changed in July 2012. Outlook.com launched; I guess Hotmail decided it was time to try something new and get back into the game. I started spending more time with Outlook.com.  And I was impressed. I loved the way he kept my stuff organized in folders, and it was so easy to share my files. He also has a built-in relationship with my desktop version of Office 2013. The more mature Outlook.com is looking more and more attractive with each new feature.

I haven’t committed to Outlook.com yet, but he is slowly growing on me. I still love Gmail, but his controlling and sometimes pushy attempts to keep me locked to him are starting to bother me. Outlook.com needs to take a few pointers from his younger brother, Office 365, and add instant communication tools, such as Skype. If Outlook.com can meet most of the functionality I currently rely on in Gmail, it may be the end of Gmail.

PS: I have never read, or intend to read, 50 Shades of Grey, so this may not be as exciting as the book to some.

Outlook, Google Apps for Business, and BB…What a Challenge

A few weeks ago, one of my clients handed me his new Blackberry Z10 and told me that it wouldn’t sync to his calendar or contacts via Outlook. Honestly, I thought he had lost it, how could BB release a product without this core functionality. Well he was right! It didn’t sync via Outlook at all (since this incident, BB has added this functionality in its newest desktop update). The client would soon be leaving for an overseas trip and needed a solution asap.

My clients company uses Google Apps for Business (free version), and had previously connected their phones to their systems, via a USB cable, to sync their calendar and contacts. (I am amazed at how many of my clients still sync their phones using a direct connection.) Because he hasn’t moved to the paid version of Google Apps, we are unable to use the Google Apps Sync, which syncs your Google accounts with Outlook, and in turn, syncs wireless to your device. Luckily, we had just purchased a sweet ultrabook with Office 2013, which gave us the tools we needed to come up with a solution for him quickly.

First, we created an Outlook.com account and connected it to Office 2013.  Then we copied all of his contacts to Outlook.com.

Contact Sync

Next we added his calendar events to the Outlook.com calendar.

Now, we added the Microsoft Outlook.com account to his BlackBerry. He was now able to see his contacts and calendar. Moving forward, he adds all his new contacts and calendar events to the Outlook.com accounts via Outlook.

Outlook Calendar Sync

This solution has been very successful. He can access his contacts and calendar anytime, and no longer needs to plug his phone in. One less cable to carry. This also provides a backup for his critical data. Our next step is to start using the SkyDrive integration to share files while he is on the road.

PS: Microsoft has released the Hotmail Connector for Office 2007-2010 which provides the same integration. Here is the link for the free program http://office.microsoft.com/en-ca/outlook-help/microsoft-office-outlook-hotmail-connector-overview-HA010222518.aspx

 

Side Note:

I have been finding that as each service updates, it’s getting harder to have these services work together as seamlessly as it has in the past. Personally, I feel the providers are forcing the users to pick one environment, whether it’s Microsoft, Google, or Apple.  All this does is frustrate the users, because it takes away previously had functionality and forces the user to pick a service which best meets their needs; and they may have give up, or modify, workflows to get all the functionality they used to have by combining the services.

From Jammies to Bathing Suits: My First Step at the 4-Hour Work Week

ImageIf you are familiar with me or my blog, you know that I am a huge fan of my jammies (my blue flannel ones are my favorite). I am also a firm believer in working remotely, and I don’t believe going to an office is always necessary. I regularly help my clients develop solutions that enables them to take extended vacations, but still be productive and a part of the office. I show them that we have a variety of options to all them to work remotely and securely so they do not have to sacrifice their jammies or bathing suits in order to work when necessary.

When I setup my small business clients, I always try to incorporate a secure method of remote access for me to access their systems. For my clients with Small Business Server, I use Remote Web Access (included in the server); for others, Logmein (if I have to); and I am now trying Microsoft Intune with a handful of clients. I believe that if I do my job right, my clients should very rarely see me. I can usually resolve most issues from the comfort of my home office, or any other location, using my laptop and phone. The only time I really need to be on-site is for hardware issues, which rarely happens.

Last year, I became so comfortable with not being “physically available,” that I went with my daughter on a school trip for 3 days. The facility had Wi-Fi and I was able to work when necessary. This spring, I am going to take another step toward a work-life balance, and I’ll be taking my children to Cuba for a vacation. I think most of us have read (or at least heard of) Tim Ferris’ book, “The Four Hour Workweek” and dream of being able to work from wherever, whenever. In my last full-time position, I had the privilege to travel for business on a regular basis and kept in touch with the office very easily.  This will be the first time I will have worked for my own clients while enjoying a vacation.

This week-long trip will be my first step at becoming able to really balance work and family. In preparation for the trip, I ensured Wi-Fi would be available, as this is key to being productive without incurring additional costs; connecting via my phone provider will cost me a fortune. I’ll take a netbook (leaving my laptop at home), and access all required documents, and etc. via cloud storage. This means that if my netbook is lost, stolen, or damaged; all my personal and client files will not be compromised. My phone will be packed just in case I really need to get Internet or make a call to a client, but more importantly, I really hope to get 3 stars on each level of Star Wars Angry Birds while getting a nice healthy dose of Vitamin D.

It will be nice to be able to use my experience to assist my clients in achieving a work-life balance of their own.

My Calendar Tips For Keeping Organized

internationalWomensdayPoster_Final-page-0Earlier this week, I was privileged to be speaking on a panel for International Women’s Day hosted at Innovation Guelph. Each of the panel guests were asked to give a short talk about how they can help the rest of the group. My talk was focused on how technology can make our lives easier.

I presented three tips: using multiple online calendars, using Skype to enable us to work from home, and effectively using a smart phone. The calendar tips generated several comments later in the evening, and I was asked how to use multiple online calendars to keep family and business organized. Here are my tips and tricks for keeping my husband, kids, family, personal, and business schedules on track. My family uses Google’s Gmail, but this same method can be used with Microsoft’s SkyDrive. Both are free, cloud-based, and can sync to multiple devices.

Having too many appointments/events/tasks on one calendar can be too overwhelming, so I recommend a different calendar for each person and/or task. Using individual calendars allows me to focus on one person/task at a time. If I need a big -picture overview, I’ll turn on multiple calendars.

Here is the list of my family’s calendars:

(This list may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s not very complicated.)

Husband – 2 calendars

  • Personal (karate training schedule, dentist appointments, etc.)
  • Work (on-call schedule, travel, etc.)

He shares these two calendars with me, but I cannot modify either of them. He is responsible for keeping his schedules up-to-date. 

Children – 1 personal each. My daughter has an additional school one. They do as they wish and I don’t have access to them.

Myself – 6 calendars

  • Personal – my personal appointments
  • Work – my work schedule including physical addresses of clients. I do this because my phone can read the location and tell me when I should leave to be at an appointment on time, based on my current location; but also for safety. My work calendar is shared with my husband, so if something were to happen, he’d be aware of my location.
  • Family – my husband and I both have edit access to this calendar, and both children only have read access to it. We use this calendar to track family events, such as birthdays, trips, family functions, etc. We all know where we are supposed to be and when. No more “I didn’t know we were going to Grandma’s today”.
  • Banking – all bill due dates, amounts, and other financial reminders are in this calendar.
  • Babysitter/Childcare – although this calendar is no longer used for babysitting purposes, it was used to keep track of babysitting schedules. It was shared with the babysitter, so she always knew when she had to be here. This calendar is now used for Summer camp schedules, ans we can track which child is at which camp and co-ordinate drop-off and pick-up schedules.
  • My public business calendar – tracks all public presentations, seminars, classes, etc. This calendar is automatically updated on my website.

It sounds like a lot to setup, but using separate calendars allows me to focus on a specific task or person. As the kids grow older, and the family becomes busier, this method lets us find each other and schedule time together.

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