Posts Tagged 'IT support'

Technology in a Down Market

I won’t dare to utter the dreaded “R-word,” but we are all aware of the current economic situations.  Gas prices are up.  Credit markets are hurting.  The almighty dollar is not so mighty.  Companies are starting to scale back their capital and operational expenditures.  This is a great time to look at processes and determine how to become more efficient and more cost conscious.  

 

This might seem like a poor time to look at spending money on technology, or on technology services.  However, that technology may make your company more efficient, and able to stave off the downturn.

 

One of the first things companies can do is to increase the mobility of their workers.  This means there is less gas spent driving to the office and back, which is good for the economy, good for the employees wallets, and good for company efficiency.  If an employee can be working each day right from the get-go, or from a client’s office, that means what was once driving time is now work time.  In addition, I can tell you we have closed deals mainly because we had the ability to make changes to a proposal or service contract while sitting with the client.  If you don’t have to leave their office, you don’t give them extra time to think about it. 

 

Another option is to choose to outsource technology service rather than have a full-time IT employee.  A company can usually get a more diverse level of technology talent for less money than a salary plus benefits. 

 

Companies can also find ways to make their processes more efficient through the use of technology.  Forms can be standardized and saved to central servers to be accessed by everyone.  In this way, more repetitive, data-entry type work can be performed by lower-salaried employees, while professionals are able to bring in more clients and perform the analytical work.

 

The key in a down economy is to view technology spending as an investment for which there will be a return.

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Surprise?

I gave a talk recently at a conference of my peers – other Managed Service Providers.  The topic of my talk was Setting Client Expectations.  The gist of it was that we need to tell the client, before they even become a client, what we will and won’t do, what kind of downtime there will be, what pain they will encounter in the switchover, what their bill from us will look like, etc.  If they know it’s coming, there won’t be any conflict. 

During my talk, I broke into an impromptu aside about how I set expectations now with everyone.  For example, I am terribly unorganized.  I have piles of papers in my multiple offices.  I have a good idea of which pile each bill, letter, etc. is in.  I have a decent idea of how much money is in my checking account, even though I haven’t balanced and reconciled my checkbook since I was in high school.  I also have an amazing group of friends that I’ve had as long as I can remember.  After years of failed relationships, I finally decided to be honest with one woman right when we started dating.  I didn’t pretend to be Mr. Organization, and I after about 3 weeks of dating I informed her that one Saturday I was going to hang with my friends rather than take her out.  We are now very happily married, and I don’t have to ask permission to spend an evening with the guys.  She knows how important they are.  She is also wonderful about putting up with my clutter, and I put up with her need to straighten every so often. 

I’ve also told the people I work with of my disorganization.  I tell them they might have to remind me several times to do things.  It isn’t that I don’t care, or am lazy.  I just have many things going on and haven’t determined how to keep it all organized.  Setting the expectation that, “if I don’t get back to you right away, it isn’t that I’m ignoring” has been tremendously helpful.

The conclusion I came to, that I guess should be obvious, is that we don’t like surprises.  Sure they’re great in a movie, or even as a party, but in our business and personal lives, we want to be prepared.  That’s why almost every day in Houston there is a chance of rain.  That’s why surgeon’s let you know what their process is, what the pain will be, and what the recovery will be like.  The sentence you almost never want to hear from your surgeon is “I bet you didn’t see that coming!”

Stuck in a Direction

I started this IT service business in 2006.  The vision is to provide a packaged IT solution that is more about strategic management, maintenance, and planning than it is about day-to-day IT support.  Somewhere along the road, though, my vision lost ground to the reality of business.  We need to pay the bills, so we need to accept clients that don’t really get the value of the all-encompassing solution. 

We then get stuck with those clients in a reactive mode.  They don’t want to move forward with our strategic recommendations because they don’t want to spend the money.  Then we get so tied up in support, that we don’t have time to do the proactive, strategic planning for our clients.  Now we are judged only on our ability to fix support issues, rather than on our experience in business technology planning.

I am trying desperately to get us out of this rut, but sometime business needs (money needs) come before my vision for the company.  I know my vision is necessary and valuable to companies, but we need a shift in business thinking regarding technology before my vision of an IT service provider is accepted as the more valuable solution. 

I don’t know when this shift will come.  When will business technology move past being a necessary evil for most companies and be viewed as a driver of business value?  When will companies see their IT investment as a potential competitive advantage, and understand that experts can make that advantage happen?

I’m still preaching, but who is listening?

Mixing Business and Friends

A friend of mine opened a small business.  When he was planning it, he called to ask about IT support and service, as well as purchasing hardware.  I gave him a proposal including hardware leasing, but we came to the joint conclusion that it was best for him to purchase the equipment.

Now we’re left with providing ongoing service.  This is a much tougher dilemma than I thought it would be. 

  • He is in Austin and we are in Houston.  That makes it tough to perform any support that requires being on site.
  • I have a really hard time sending a monthly invoice to a good friend.
  • Do I prioritize his needs so I can maintain my friendship with him?  This would probably irritate my employees, who have a triage system that works for us.  It would be upset whenever I call and say “drop everything and help my friend.”
  • Do I make my friend go through our regular process – call our support line, send a support email – or can he call me directly?

Having this business/personal relationship actually makes me think everytime I answer a phone call from him “Is he calling me to catch up, or to report a support issue?”  I think I am going to try to find him another support provider in the Austin area.  Thoughts?

Another Hidden Cost of Technology

Here is what we are seeing over and over again.  We have clients that will purchase new PC’s when they’re on sale at Best Buy, or on the Dell website.  Most clients of ours run some sort of industry specific management application.  Examples might be practice management software for doctors and dentists, timekeeping software for lawyers, dealer management systems for auto dealers.  These applications come with their own requirements for operating systems, RAM, processor, video card, etc.  This does not mean that their software will absolutely not work with specs other these.  It simply means that the applications have been tested with these specs, and the software company will offer support for their software ONLY if these specs are used. 

At some point something will go wrong with the management application, or the network it is running on.  We will be called to provide support.  We make sure the network, server, and PC’s are running fine, then we call the software company for help with their software.  If the specs of the PC or the server do not match the requirements set forth by the software manufacturer, they are under no obligation to offer support.  Sometimes they will help out of courtesy, but since their software hasn’t been tested with the Best Buy sale computer, support might not be as swift as we would like.

In the meantime, our client is not able to perform all of their job at the very least.  At worst, the entire office is down because the management application is so vital.  How much money are they losing in the process?  If it is a doctor and the Electronic Medical records system is down, he isn’t seeing patients.  If it is a car dealer, they aren’t selling cars.  4-5 hours can mean thousands of dollars, in addition to mounting frustration. 

I am not berating those who are trying to save a few dollars.  I know as well as anyone that is key to running a successful business.  However, there are good places and bad places to save.  The technology requirements for vital management applications are there for a reason.  If you aren’t sure if the PC’s you are looking to buy meet the required specs, call an IT service firm.  We will always be happy to help.

Comedy and sales

I used to be a stand-up comic in my spare time, and I feel the need to make the cheesy comparison of a good joke (or “bit”, as we call them) and a good sales cycle. 

A good bit has a set up and a punch line.  Of course, as there are different types of jokes, there are different types and lengths of setups.  I’m sure everyone has had a jooke told to them by someone who really gets into the setup.  They act it out, do voices, drag things on and on.  With all that build up, they better have a phenomenal punch line, otherwise it is a huge disappointment, and waste of time.   

There are also those that have a very understated setup.  You almost don’t even realize it is the setup of a joke.  It seems like just a conversation.  Until the punchline hits, and you take a few seconds to realize “that was a joke, and it was funny.” 

Of course there are those who are terrible joke-tellers.  They tell the punch line which doesn’t make sense, only to have to back track and give more setup.  Completely ruins what could otherwise be a great joke.

Salespeople work the same way.  There is a setup – prospecting and information gathering stage – followed by a punch line – proposal and closing stage.  Each proposal and close has to have the perfect setup with it to ensure a smooth cycle.  There is no reason to go over the top with the setup, if there is a poor service to be offered at the end.  The prospect will feel they’ve been duped, and they’ve wasted their time.  Likewise, there can’t be a great punch line, with no need built up.  It makes the salesperson have to go back and justify the proposal after the all important price has been given. 

A really good salesperson understands how to set up a proposal, just as a really good comic knows exactly how to word and deliver the setup to get the maximum out of the punch line. 

Drawing the line

Here’s where we are both struggling and getting hurt in providing our IT support to clients.  It is really hard to draw the line between real IT support, and IT training.

When someone asks us how to attach a document to an email, that is really a training issue.  However, when we sell our service, we tell our clients, we are their IT deparment.  If we were really an employee of our client, we would probably answer those training issue with no problem. 

It’s difficult to be an efficient company in our real mission of providing unmatched IT guidance and support when we are also having to train.  If we don’t answer those questions, however, the users tell the boss we’re not being responsive. 

More often than not, when we get an email from the upset president of a client company, it turns out to be either repetitive user error, or repititive training that is the issue.  Of course, this is not to say we are perfect.  We occasionally let things fall through the cracks. 

Any ideas?