Saturday, 31 March 2012 21:01

Managed IT services that deliver ROI

Over the last several years, the term “managed services” has become more prevalent in the IT services community. It’s how many companies these days are consuming IT services, especially those companies who don’t have the need or the budget for a full-time IT department. In its most basic sense, managed service delivery is the utilization of remote tools in which an IT service company can remotely manage and support a client’s IT environment.

These tools allow the remote monitoring, patching, upgrading and support of a client’s servers, workstations, and network devices. These services are usually priced on a “per device/per month” model, with the idea that a network can be maintained for a “fixed fee” per month.

“There are distinct advantages to this IT service delivery model, both to the IT company as well as to the client,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “First, from the IT company’s perspective, they can automate most of the routine tasks that are associated with maintaining a computing environment. These remote management tools have many automated processes that can be turned on, thus saving the IT company time and money.”

Smart Business spoke to Schuler about how to get the most from using managed services for IT.

How do businesses benefit from managed services?

From the client’s perspective, there are advantages as well. First, this service delivery model helps clients manage their IT budgets a bit more closely, as many of the services are delivered on a fixed fee. This adds predictability to the ongoing cost of IT. Next, if the IT company has perfected their own processes around these tools, the ‘human error’ factor of manual maintenance goes away. For both parties, the benefits of automating what can be automated can be realized.

With all of the benefits to managed services, if a company looks at it as their only answer to IT services, they are doing themselves a huge disservice. While managed services might be the answer to basic maintenance of the system, it neglects helping companies to truly drive value out of their IT resources. Managed services, when pitched as the solution, put consumers in a highly commoditized mindset. IT services as a whole should not be viewed as commodity services, since these services, if delivered correctly, can add serious bottom line advantages to the business.

How can businesses ensure these services are effective?

A less known term in the industry is ‘blended services.’ This term is less known because I made it up myself within the last year. Blended services are a strategic combination of managed services and professional services that are packaged together to deliver the ultimate amount of value to the customer. This consists of looking hard at those services that can take advantage of remote tool sets and automation, and subsequently injecting intellectual capital into every other facet of IT that cannot be automated.

Part of blended services consist of pre-scheduled on-site consulting time. The face-to-face interaction that occurs during this time is invaluable to the business. It is during this time that questions like, ‘What is the best way to do such and such on my computer?’ or ‘What application can solve this business process issue that we have?’ are more likely to get answered. Internally, we use the term ‘walk-by.’ This is when a consultant from our firm is on-site and is walking by an employee of the company and they are stopped in their tracks to answer what are sometimes very important questions. It is this face-to-face interaction that leads to new efficiencies being discovered, and people at the company ultimately being more productive at their job.

If services are delivered 100 percent remotely, the chances of a person picking up the phone, and calling a relative stranger on the other end of the line to ask about the best way to do something, is slim. Those phone calls are rarely received. It takes face-to-face time and a relationship that’s been developed for people to really be able to work well together, and for the partnership to be just that — a partnership.

How can executives be sure they derive value from managed services?

All of this also takes some commitment from the management of the business. They need to see the value in IT and it’s effectiveness as a bottom line tool. Far too many executives at companies have traditionally been ‘technophobes’ and view IT strictly as overhead, a necessary evil, as opposed to a bottom-line boosting critical part of the business. Luckily as time goes on, this is happening less and less, as IT is being taken more seriously every year. In short, when consuming IT services, make sure that you are as equally engaged as your service provider.

My advice is to make sure that you see past the commoditized services that are being sold to you, and that you ask your IT company to do more and to prove their real value to you. Assuming you are paired up with the right organization, they will be able to help you take your company to the next level. This might cost more in the very short run, but in the not too distant future, the ROI will be there.

Zack Schuler is founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

Published in Los Angeles

If you are interested in becoming a cutting edge company with respect to communication, your phone system and e-mail have become old news. The latest and greatest trend around communication is what the industry refers to as “unified communications.”

According to Wikipedia, unified communications (UC) is the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, telephony (including IP telephony), video conferencing, data sharing (including Web connected electronic whiteboards, a.k.a. IWBs or interactive white boards), call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax). “UC is not a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group.

Smart Business discussed with Schuler the highlights and advantages of some of the key components of UC.

Instant messaging (IM): IM has evolved from an Internet-based social tool, to a corporate collaboration tool. At Cal Net, we use IM to get a quick answer to a quick question. Rather than using e-mail as IM, which many companies do, we choose to use IM itself. IM has to become part of the culture, and when you need a quick answer to a quick question, it’s our tool of choice. E-mail has a less critical response expectation than does an IM. To take IM a step further, if you implement what are known as ‘federation services’ you can connect to a clients or business partner’s IM system, while still remaining in your IM interface.

Video conferencing: With many of the new UC products, video conferencing is available. In its simplest form, video conferencing can be two people talking back and forth using a small and inexpensive Web cam. In its more elaborate existence, video conferencing can be a multiple camera setup in a conference room, connected to another conference room, over hi-bandwidth private lines that produce very crisp hi-definition video. Whatever the case, the big value in video conferencing is to save time and money on travel, and to have a better communication experience with the ability to read facial and body language. Once it becomes part of your culture, it is a very effective tool.

Presence: Within many of our tools such as IM and SharePoint, there exists a tool known as ‘Presence.’ Presence is simply where a person is located, and what they are doing. This can include the city or location that they are in, and whether they are available, in a meeting, on a phone call, traveling, or whatever categories you deem appropriate for your environment. For example, when I look at our presence dashboard now, two of my employees have ‘Do not Disturb’ marked. Internally, that means ‘I’m working on something, so don’t IM me, call me, or stop by my office to say hi, unless of course it is an emergency.’ Presence is an effective tool for letting your coworkers know where you are, and what you’re doing.

Data sharing or interactive white boards: These components of a UC system can prove to be invaluable when you are working with someone at a remote location. Let’s say that you’ve got a meeting with a coworker in New York, and you are brainstorming on a work flow diagram. You can simply launch a Web chat through your UC client, and then through the client, one person can take over another’s desktop, you can share a particular document, or you can bring up an ad-hoc white board and begin scribbling notes. This is a very effective tool for collaboration.

Unified messaging (UM): UM has been around for quite some time, yet many companies still don’t have these feature sets. Imagine getting your e-mail, voicemail, texts and faxes all in a single inbox. This is unified messaging. In my case, if someone leaves me a voicemail message, it arrives in my e-mail inbox as a .wav file. Double clicking the .wav file plays the voicemail back, which is far simpler than using my telephone to pick up the voicemail. If I’m out of the office, the voicemail is delivered to my mobile device, and, once again, with the click of a button, I’ve got my voicemail. Faxes arrive in my inbox as well in the form of PDF documents.

Find me: Find me is a feature that allows callers to find you wherever you are. In my case, if I’m not at my desk, and I don’t pick up my phone, a greeting comes on that says the system will attempt to locate me. With my system, I request that the person calling give my system their name before attempting to locate me. Then, my system will call my cell phone, announce that so-and-so is looking for me, and give me the option of taking the call or sending the call to voicemail. This is a powerful feature in instances when you are out of the office and you want important callers to be able to get in contact with you.

In summary, unified communications, when used across the entire organization, can be a very effective set of tools to help workers be more productive and have an overall better communication experience. As an aside, the products that we use internally for UC are the ShoreTel Unified Communication system, along with Microsoft Lync.

Zack Schuler is the founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com with any questions about available UC technologies.

Published in Los Angeles

When hiring a member of the IT team, weeding through all of the candidates out there is a tremendous challenge. Particularly if you are a smaller organization, it is likely that a non-technical person is doing the interviewing. In that case, it is very difficult to determine whether or not the person you are talking to actually knows their stuff. Even someone with a very technical background can be fooled by an impressive resume and a smooth talker.

“IT people are weird. I should know — I’m one of them,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “They are the hardest to hire and even harder to retain, and are sometimes hard to fire, as many of them make themselves indispensable as they convince management that their skills are unique. Many of them have technical egos that are larger than life.

“At Cal Net, we have roughly 35 talented IT engineers that we had to hire, train and retain. And we’ve had to let some go over the years. We would like to think that we have this down to a science.”

Smart Business learned more from Schuler about the best process for hiring and retaining the right IT people.

Should IT people be interviewed differently than other potential hires?

Like with any position, you should be screening for the personality traits. An egocentric IT person is the last person you want on your team. Some interviewers are naturally talented at sniffing this out. For others, I would recommend a personality profile. In my opinion, personality is more than 50 percent of what you should be screening for.

Another of the most important traits is good communication skills. We have all experienced the IT guy who wants to sit in a closet somewhere to minimize his contact with humans. If they do make end user contact, it is usually a painful experience, as they will say the least amount possible so that they can head back to their cave. You should have the expectation that your IT person will be able to communicate as effectively as anyone else in the organization.

How should a company screen an IT person?

Start with, ‘Tell me about your IT environment at home.’ If they give you an answer along the lines of ‘I have three physical servers, running 7 VMs for testing, and I’ve got my own mail server running Exchange, and I’m running VDI for my primary workstation,’ then that is a good first step. They view this as their ‘sandbox.’ If they respond, ‘I’ve got a laptop at home and I try to stay away from the computer as I get enough of it at work,’ then they probably aren’t a good technical fit. You want your IT folks to be passionate about technology, and most of them do their best research and learning at home, after hours.

The second easy way to screen is to have a short technical quiz that can be administered by anyone. Feel free to e-mail me for our quiz.

Last, and perhaps the most time-consuming and difficult process, is to put them through a technical lab. We require that our new hires come in and build a network in an eight-hour time period. We have a point system that scores the candidate, as no one ever finishes the lab. This gives us an excellent assessment as to what they do know, and what it is that they need help with. Depending on what you are looking for, there are companies that will administer these sorts of labs for you. If you are testing on Microsoft infrastructure skills, we can administer this sort of lab.

What are some of the challenges of retaining IT people?

In general, IT people are motivated by advancement and the quest for knowledge. In organizations where there isn’t any room to move up, nor is there anything new to learn, IT people will stagnate and usually move on.

Good IT people are always looking to explore and learn the latest and greatest technologies. Just as they have a sandbox at home, they want to work for an organization that invests in IT and gives them an opportunity to learn.

Good IT people are also looking to move up the food chain. While some IT folks are motivated heavily by pay, many are more motivated by an increase in title and responsibility.

How can these challenges be overcome?

Quenching the IT person’s quest for knowledge isn’t always the easiest thing to do. There are two ways to attack this. First of all, if you hire someone who is a master of all of the technologies that you are currently running, you’ll get someone who can hit the ground running, but you will also get someone who becomes bored quickly. On the other hand, if you hire someone with like experience and aptitude, but not exact experience in the technologies you are running, you will give someone an opportunity to learn. You will obviously have to weigh the business risk in doing this — and while they are learning you may want to supplement their skills with a consultant — but it can be well worth it in the long run.  In short, I recommend slightly ‘under-hiring’ for the position.

The second way to attack this is to give your IT person some latitude when it comes to decision-making. If they want to implement a new technology that is reasonable from a cost standpoint, and delivers business value, I would err on the side of letting them do it. Even small concessions can give your IT person a sense of worth and something new to learn.

Last, in terms of advancement, don’t ‘over-title’ a person. Don’t call your lone IT person ‘IT director’ right away. Create a career path: network administrator,  senior network administrator, IT manager, IT director, and so on.  Even very large IT organizations should be using this model. Look for increases in responsibility along the way, along with small increases in pay. Thinking out a career path before you hire someone will go a long way in making sure that they hang around for a long time.

Zack Schuler is the founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com.

Published in Los Angeles

The migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 is certainly inevitable. As updated applications are developed for the newer operating systems like Windows 7, XP users will have to upgrade to use these new applications. Office 2010, for instance, is one of the most commonly used applications that will soon no longer be supported on XP.

If the migration is inevitable, then why not switch now and be ahead of the curve? As appealing as this idea sounds, the complicated and often painful process of migrating to a new system is never easy to implement. For your company to be willing and capable to begin the shift, there must be an immediate purpose and a practical payoff for it.

Smart Business spoke to Zack Schuler at Cal Net Technology Group about how and why businesses should get started on the transition.

Why should companies consider upgrading now?

  • More than 60 percent of all companies are currently piloting Windows 7 in their organization.
  • 11 percent of all Microsoft customers have completely upgraded to Windows 7, with another 50 percent of consumers to follow in the next six to 12 months.
  • An additional 27 percent of Microsoft customers state that they plan to start upgrading in the next year or two.
  • Windows 7 64 bit makes up more than 20 percent of all editions sold today.

Windows XP was released in 2001. In software terms, a decade is an incredibly long time. Microsoft, or any software company for that matter, will only support its software for so many years. The time has come for XP to finally be laid to rest and transition out of support to allow newer products like Windows 7 to experience widespread use.

What are the advantages of upgrading to Windows 7?

Windows 7 supports a multitude of new hardware packages, particularly the new 64-bit processors. Put simply, a 64-bit PC can handle larger amounts of information than a 32-bit system. Since it can use more RAM — 4 GB and up — a 64-bit computer can be more responsive when you’re running lots of programs at once. It helps to not only enhance efficiency, but will help eliminate issues with computers getting bogged down or crashing.

Every year, Windows XP is forced to handle increasingly larger and CPU-draining programs that are intended for more advanced systems. This means that XP will only get slower and slower in the future as everything else gets bigger. If you want to stay productive, efficient and in the game, it’s time to upgrade to the 64-bit processor and put Windows 7 to work for you.

What other features benefit businesses?

Windows 7 also brings far greater stability and security than previous Windows platforms. Systems as a whole run more reliably, and the huge drop in downtime will bring a significant return on investment very quickly. It has numerous under-the-hood tune-ups that boost every computer’s overall speed and performance by using less memory when it’s idle and less graphics memory when you launch and switch between windows. It also runs background services like Bluetooth only when you need them. If and when memory does run low, Windows 7 can easily utilize most USB flash drives for instant storage space.

Windows 7 is also more energy-efficient that other versions of Windows. Administrators can monitor energy consumption and adjust power settings across their organization, reducing the amount of wasted energy.

While there are costs involved for new desktop hardware, software and migration planning, as well as technical labor and user training, Cal Net is uniquely positioned to help organizations make their transition from XP to Windows 7. Recently, Cal Net earned its Gold Competency in System Management, having helped thousands of people transition to a new version of Windows over the last 15 years, including many successful Windows 7 projects.

What would you tell someone who doesn’t find the transition necessary?

If you’re still not completely convinced, take a look at some of our favorite productivity-enhancing features that are only available on Windows 7:

The search box: The latest search box for Windows 7 is incredibly responsive and lightning fast. Just typing in a word offers instant results from anywhere on your computer, much like Google’s new Instant technology. The search box can even tap into programs like Windows Live Mail and find misplaced e-mails in folders. It’s also an easier way to get at things like theme settings, printers and system information.

Pinning items: Being able to ‘pin’ items isn’t really new to Windows 7. You’ve always been able to permanently stick items on your start menu, but it’s now been expanded to the taskbar. Now they’ll never be buried under the program windows you have open, which is a huge time-saver when you have multiple tasks going on at once.

Backup: With Windows 7’s built-in backup tool, you can plug in a USB hard drive or flash drive and it will ask you if you want to use it as a back-up device. Create a job to back up your files to the drive, start the initial run, and every time you plug that drive in from now on you’ll have the option to re-run your job. It’s a painless way to keep important files safe.

System image: Power users know all about creating images and know why it’s a good idea. Creating a system image is a bit like taking a snapshot of your entire system — windows, your programs, your pictures, documents and music — and preserving it in case something disastrous happens. Even if your hard drive crashes you can restore your system image to a brand new drive and pick up right where you left off.

Zack Schuler is the founder & CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com.

Published in Los Angeles
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