Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Category: Small Business (page 1 of 2)

Managing BYOD with Policies in the Midsized Firm

policyThere’s been much discussion of the concept of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) over the last few years. While the topic has been written about by many bloggers and authors, there’s been very little discussion about BYOD in the small and midsize business space.

Many large organizations have the ability to deploy large and complex systems to manage employee-owned devices. While some small and midsized organizations might be able to find the budget to implement sophisticated BYOD management systems, most can’t hope to find money to implement these costly solutions.

Not having the budget for sophisticated solutions shouldn’t stop organizations from building policies to manage employee-owned devices and the data held or accessed with these devices. In addition, additional consideration must be made for the employee-owned computers that might be used to access company owned assets while employees are at home or traveling away from work.

To build quality policies, an organization must consider not only the technology used but also the data accessed and any legal issues related to any data that might be accessed and or lost due to a loss off a phone or device.

In an ideal world, these policies would be backed up with systems and solutions to ensure that all policies are followed, but with the budgetary constraints found in many small and midsized organizations, a policy is sometimes the only thing in place to manage the business.

Has your organization implemented BYOD policies? If so, how well are they working for you?
IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

hit counter

Tapping into the power of others

watson_computerLast week, I read with interest the announcement that IBM was opening up their Watson computing platform to outside organizations and developers to use to build upon the cognitive computing and natural language processing of the platform.

This is a big step for organizations of all sizes, but especially those in the small and midmarkets. The type of computing power offered by Watson is something that small and medium sized organizations could never hope to have access to on their own.

Along with the announcement, IBM released the names of three companies using Watson’s powerful computing capabilities. These three companies are all smaller organizations who would struggle to find access to a fraction of the computing power they now have access to with Watson.

I’ve argued in the past that big data can level the playing field for the small and medium business (SMB). SMB’s have been able to take advantage of the various resources available in the cloud for computing and storage, but they’ve rarely had access to computing power like Watson.

Imagine being a small business with an idea for a new product or service that requires an enormous amount of computing power to model the new service. Currently, you’d have to invest a great deal of money in hardware and/or cloud services to get started. Even with this investment, you may not have the full computing environment required to build your business.

That is where the power of the opening of Watson comes in. With a few API calls, you can access one of the most powerful computing platforms in the world. Imagine what that power can do for your business.

As a small or medium sized organization, you have to take every advantage that you can find to keep up with or surpass your larger competitors. The opening up of Watson adds just one more advantage to the SMB.
IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

hit counter

The Cloud – more than a technology

SaaSThe cloud is quite hyped these days – and rightfully so. The cloud brings quite a bit of productivity and cost savings to organizations as well as a plethora of options for new technology and platforms.

What many organizations (and people) don’t understand is that the cloud is more than a technology platform. Not only can you build better technologies and processes using the cloud, but you can build much better customer experiences.

Imagine having access to a large number of platforms that your organization can implement immediately (or within a short amount of time) and begin to deliver a product or service differently. Imagine how powerful it would be for an organization to be able to quickly pivot and change the customer experience within a few days, weeks or months.

For organizations strapped for resources, the cloud is an ideal platform. For the most part, moving to a cloud-based service or product is inexpensive, well supported and fast to get to a ‘go live’ date.

For smaller organizations, the ability to deliver an experience similar to – or better than – one delivered by a much larger organization is a game changer. The cloud provides this capability quickly and cost effectively. Using the cloud gives smaller organizations with very finite resources a way to level the playing field with their competitors.

The cloud is hyped, but it generally delivers on that hype. It’s more than a platform and more than a technology, it can be a game changer.

Has your organization been able to use the cloud to change your business? If so, how?

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

hit counter

How not to make critical decisions

I ran across IBM’s “How NOT to run a midsize business…” site and immediately spent some time sifting through the site.

You’ve most likely seen the cards from someecards.com running around the web these days.  IBM has taken the idea of those cards and applied them to the midsize business (and business in general).  You should jump over and read through some of the posts there…there are some that are quite funny.

While skimming through the site, I noticed this one:

ku-xlarge

Now…at first blush, this is quite funny…but I’ve actually seen a similar situation at one organization I worked at.

The company was a small business that had been started by a gentleman who fancied himself a bit of a sportsman.  The company wasn’t badly run – in fact it was a well run and fairly profitable.  The one issue that caused a lot of consternation within this organization was the way in which the CEO / Owner made the “hard” decisions.

The decision making process used by this CEO was similar to the “…let the dart decide..”  in the cartoon above.    He had a few different approaches but the one he used most was a Golf Course’s Driving Range.  He would take his golf clubs to the local driving range and pick out particular areas of the range to use as ‘decision points’. This driving range is well known for having flags and targets around the range and the CEO would call out which flag/target would be for which decision.

The CEO would spend the afternoon hitting golf balls and based on his pre-determined flags/targets and some form of internal ‘counter’ to help him make decisions.   Now…I won’t say that he never made good decisions, but I will say it felt very much like throwing darts at dart board.  The decisions were at times random and at times prescient.

Regardless of the outcome of this particular CEO’s decision making process, the way in which he made these decisions was mind boggling and would drive the employees crazy.   While this CEO was able to be successful with his approach, it doesn’t make it right.

Making decisions based on dart boards, golf driving ranges or any other form of randomized approaches isn’t an ideal way to run an organization. While it may work for a while, it most likely won’t work all the time.  Don’t follow this CEO’s footsteps…unless you just like spending time at the driving range.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

hit counter

The Future of Managed Services Providers (MSP’s)

Managed Services Providers (MSP’s) have been around the IT space for years. Most small and medium organizations have experience have experience working with MSP’s in IT, finance, HR and other areas of the business.

The role of the MSP is an important one in the small and medium business (SMB) space. An MSP provides the ability for a small or medium business to offload those pieces of their business that aren’t driving value or competitive advantage. For example, a non-profit that focuses on delivering meals to the elderly should – in most cases – hire a managed services provider to manage the IT for the organization. IT isn’t a key driver of value of this organization and should be outsourced to an MSP.

In order to continue to drive value as a trusted business partner, MSP’s have needed to stay on the forefront of technologies.  Over the last few years, the MSP’s that have thrived have been those that have adopted the cloud as a way to deliver more value to their clients. The next generation MSP understand the cloud, social and mobile to help clients run and grow their business.

Additionally, those MSP’s that have been most successful have moved away from solely focusing on delivering “IT” to their clients and have begun helping drive business solutions. This is, in fact, the same thing that the good internal IT groups have done over the years – they’ve stopped focusing on delivering “technology” and started delivering solutions that the business needs.

Timothy Tsao hits this pretty well in an article titled What does a “next generation” MSP look like? How does it act? where he writes on this exact topic.  In that article, Timothy writes:

The next-generation MSP is business-focused, not IT focused. This means: in order to counter MSP commoditization, a next-gen MSP differentiates itself and understands how to sell the front office: the CMO, CFO, the procurement officer, the supply-chain officer. These are people who have traditionally dabbled in ERP. They’re increasingly becoming part of the conversation, so the successful next-gen MSP must have a business mindset in terms of how it sells. In other words, it’s about numbers: translating the benefits of what the customer gains into specific dollar amounts.

Emphasis mine.

Whether an MSP, an internal IT group or a consultant, the way to differentiate yourself today and in the future is to be able to talk about how your services can help the business rather than simply that you can ‘manage IT’ for their clients.

The future of the MSP looks great if they can move away from providing just IT services and move toward providing provide business value.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

hit counter

Small Business and IT

Small Business and ITI’ve written before about the constraints that hit small businesses when it comes to IT.   Constraints are everywhere, but one area that I’ve always found them is within the space of small business and IT.

On a previous article titled Small Business CIO – Manager of Constraints, I discussed the development of options for replacing an exchange server for a client…the options were  to upgrade to a new Exchange server/license or migrate to an externally hosted Exchange or Email provided.

For that particular client, they decided to move to a hosted exchange environment and saved a good deal of money. That particular client had an IT group and had people to help support whatever option they chose…but what about the small business that doesn’t have an IT staff.

Can you run a small business today without an IT staff?  Yes…you can. I don’t think anyone would argue against that…but can you do it effectively?

Let’s take a look at an example.

Our example small business is a 10 person company with an office in Dallas and an office in Fort Worth.

There are no full time IT employees.  The owner’s son provides support as needed, but he has a full-time job and isn’t usually available when needed.

The company has a local file server to store files and to act as a backup.    A virtual private network exists between the Fort Worth office and the Dallas office so that all users are on the same network. Other than that, there isn’t much in the way of ‘sophisticated’ technology.

There are quite a number of issues at the company with the largest issues being local software problems.  A few examples of these problems:

  •  Most of the company management is done via Excel.   The central file server is where everyone stores their excel files…and multiple users use these excel files regularly.  An issue almost daily that causes these excel files to ‘lock’ so users cannot save their work. Someone has to go onto the server and copy the excel file, rename it and then everyone has to use the new file.
  • Email is handled via an outsourced exchange host. The service is fairly reliable but there are times when interruptions occur. Additionally, the provider doesn’t allow users to access their email via their smartphones…which is something the company wants/needs to do to make it easier to keep on top of email.
  • Most of the software used by the company is ‘local’ software installed on each machine.  There are multiple installations of QuickBooks (and multiple versions of Quickbooks), multiple installations of Office (again…multiple versions of Office), etc.  The controller of the company uses Quickbooks to manage the company payroll, but he often has with compatibility issues between the different versions of Quikcbooks they run.
  • Each user’s computer is different.  The business owner buys whatever hardware is on sale at the time he needs a new computer.   This makes it ‘cheaper’ to buy new hardware but it does make supporting hardware more difficult.
  • Lastly, the phone system is an antiquated local PBX system that fails often. The business owner knows they need to do something different but he isn’t sure what to do.

This is a pretty accurate example of many small businesses today. They have a hodge-podge of hardware, software and technology. This hodge-podge is built as needed and, for the most part, it works.

But…what happens when problems arise?  What happens when things break?  What happens when growth happens? Can this company mitigate some of their issues today to help themselves tomorrow?

Here’s a few thoughts on what this organization can do to future-proof itself and resolve some of their current issues.

  1. Move to a service like Microsoft Office 365.    This provides two ‘solutions’.  The first, email.  It allows the company to move away from their outdated hosted exchange service to a new service that allows exchange-like email/calendaring and smartphone access to email. The second solution addresses the file sharing issue and should resolve the excel ‘locking’ problem that they have.  
  2. Move away from a local Quickbooks environment to online versions. This isn’t a necessity, but it would move away from having different versions.  Intuit has online versions of their accounting software and payroll software, which can be used by multiple users while removing the need to upgrade and maintain the software.
  3. Move away from the local PBX phone system to a hosted phone system. This gets the company’s phone systems into the ‘cloud’ and allows for more features. It also provides for more ‘mobility’ as users can have their extensions routed to whatever phone they happen to be on.
  4. Even though it may be slightly more expensive in the short term, standardize on one hardware provider like Dell.  This provides for a much easier environment for support and future upgrades.   In addition, purchasing a maintenance agreement from Dell (or whomever you go with) provides additional levels of hardware support for when things do go wrong.
  5. Find a local IT company that can provide technology support either on an as needed basis or via a managed IT services contract. This removes the reliance on your cousin or friend to provide support and puts your organization in the hands of IT Professionals at a fraction of the cost of hiring your own full-time team.

Taking the above steps won’t solve all this company’s IT headaches, but it does alleviate them by moving responsibility for maintenance of many important systems onto someone else.

With a little forethought and planning, a small business can do just fine without a full time IT team.

Image Credit:IT Crowd iPhone Wallpaper by drumminhands on flickr

« Older posts

If you'd like to receive updates when new posts are published, signup for my mailing list. I won't sell or share your email.