Reasons not to change IT (or any other) Supplier

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20 June 2017Steve F
If your contract with any service is up for renewal then it is quite normal for you to want to look around at alternative providers, what they can offer and the costs that they will do the service for. I get two or three supplier calls every week wanting me to change from my current provider for Utilities, Accountancy, Legal Work, IT Support (!), Telephones.. the list goes on but in each case I have to consider whether the change would be a positive one both in the future and in the short term. There is a saying that "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten" and this is one of the considerations that I have when I am looking at moving providers for any service, the main questions I use are:
  1. Am I happy with the service I have had so far?
  2. How much inconvenience will there be to my business?
  3. Will the new provider be more interested in what my business does?
  4. Is there a big cost saving
  5. Can I see better value in moving in the longer term (12 months or more)?
  6. Is my current supplier a "partner" in what I am doing?
Looking at these in a bit more detail:
  • Am I happy with the service I have had so far?
If I am happy then why would I even look at moving, one situation where I can be happy but want to move, would be where the provider I have had and built a relationship with, has been taken over by or merged with another and it has become immediately apparent to me that the change is not a positive one from my position. This recently happened with our Accountant who retired and we were moved to the new company that had taken his business, I was not happy with the new company and therefore moved to a new provider of my choice that I felt would be better suited to my needs. If you are happy with the service then the chances of you moving are far less, hence why every business should be striving to make their customers happy
  • How much inconvenience will there be to my business?
You cannot change suppliers without an element of inconvenience or hassle. Whether it is just paperwork that needs to be filled in following several meetings discussing the change, to setting up new payment systems or to complete hardware and software replacements there is an element of inconvenience to the business. Often the level of inconvenience will be played down by the new supplier, after all, they want your business, my favorite expression with IT Systems is to consider it as you would open heart surgery, some considerable initial pain, followed by a period of recovery that will be extended based on the complexity of the requirements, this seems to fit the bill from our experience in the past. If you cannot quantify the level of inconvenience so you can then put a cost on it, then you should be considering this as a warning bell against moving, unless you have an overriding reason to move.
  • Will the new provider be more interested in what my business does?
All relationships in business should be win-win for both supplier and client, but there are levels as we know of these relationships where at one end there is little or no "relationship" present, so you really don't care if you change supplier every month the impact is minimal, to one where the provider is integrated into your planning and business strategy, with significant value-add to the business having spent time getting to know your specific requirements, how you operate and where you are going. This to me is extremely important, there are a lot of remote, Internet-based services that can offer extremely low-cost solutions but by definition the majority of these are "boilerplate" by which I mean that a set of documents, processes and procedures have been created that broadly fit everyone's basic requirements, but there is little or no input or focus on your specific requirements. I like giving examples and a good one for this is the outsourced human resources (HR) companies. I have spoken to a few in my time, however, they are all using standardised templates (they call them "proven") that comply with the requirements of the Law as it now is, however not a single one asked me how my business operated before offering me their off the shelf product with my Companies name stamped on it. Having and interest in your business should be a priority, if your current supplier is not, then that could be a reason to move, or speak to them and come up with a plan to make your existing supplier more relevant to you.
  • Is there a big cost saving?
This is a big one.  I can say that cost is a significant factor, however, the cost comes at a price. What I mean by this is that there is a standard set of costs associated with any business and your supplier will have these in the same way that you do, if costs are too high then the only way to create profit is to either increase sales or decrease costs, nothing else (legal) can change this basic equation. If we think of the classic example of outsourcing call centres, there have been some major companies that have fallen foul of reducing cost by using call centres located in lower cost locations, typically the far east. This certainly reduced cost and enabled them to keep or reduce prices, but what actually happened is that the levels of Customer Satisfaction decreased and people moved to alternative providers, in fact, the marketing of "UK Call Centres" has become widespread as a positive tool for a sale. If there is a significant perceived saving, I would always ask the new provider how they maintain costs? Are you really offering a like for like service? We offer a maximum 4 hour onsite response with immediate access to a member of our engineering team to our client's problems, we had a renewal with a client recently who showed me that they could get a significant saving with an alternative supplier, but we pointed out that although they were offering a 4 hour response, this was the maximum time that they would take before returning a client's call for support, not be onsite or offer immediate telephone support so not "like for like".  In this case, as they have 10-15 calls per month they could see a potential problem with extended downtime. When they went back to the supplier and asked for a like for like service, the costs were similar and therefore there was no big cost saving to be had.
  • Can I see better value in moving in the longer term (12 months or more)?
Looking at the bigger picture, cost savings should be looked at longer term, there will be a lot of initial cost in moving to a new provider of almost any kind, however, if you can balance this initial cost with long term savings then it is much easier to qualify the financial reasons for the move. If you can't see long term savings then you should consider whether there are other reasons for the changes you are looking to make. Telecoms are a big player in the long term cost savings, we look at long-term bills from clients that are looking to move providers and then look at the most cost effective option for the client, as we offer call inclusive and exclusive contracts it can often be proven that having your calls included in larger organisations can be an expensive option as many people are low users and these often outweigh the high usage users. Again this is about knowing your client's requirements.
  • Is my current supplier a "partner" in what I am doing?
I am a great believer in partnerships in business, whether as a client or a supplier, it never ceases to amaze me what people do in their business and one of my goals is always to look at what we know and see how this can be used to improve a business, usually with improved efficiencies. To regularly be asked to sit in on planning meetings shows that this type of partnership is present and it only comes from spending time with a client. If you have this type of relationship with a client or supplier, then as a client, I would suggest that the reason you are thinking of changing is outside of the normal parameters and possibly these parameters deserve to be looked at in detail as you will not get such buy-in from a new supplier immediately, it is not generally possible.   So if you are thinking of changing what should you do today? Certainly the first thing is to pick up the phone and discuss your concerns, often this is a simple communication problem, something has changed in your organisation, or in your suppliers and the two no longer quite marry up, opening a dialogue is certainly the first line to a resolution, is far lower cost in terms of both money and time and in the majority of cases can resolve the problems that are making you consider change. Write down your expectations. A list of what you expect from a supplier is the basis of an agreement and becomes a measure that you can use to determine your service levels. Don't forget as a Supplier, you have expectations of a client and these should also be written down, I did this some years ago, it is a simple list:
  • Be honest with us, it is difficult to help without the whole story
  • Talk to us, we can make mistakes but we can only rectify change and improve with your help
  • Thank us, take a few seconds to make our day
  • Pay us, it is a fundamental fact that without money we cannot exist to help you
  • Recommend us, please help us to move our business forward as well
  Finally a quote:
The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot … it cannot be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.” ~ John Ruskin
Business should always be a Win/Win for both parties, if you can create this within your business then you and your suppliers should never need to change for anything but the "right reasons" .. but that's another Blog entirely !

Steve Farmer

   
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How safe is your Business WiFi ?

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10 June 2017Steve F
As a business owner, you want to provide the best possible facilities to those working at and visiting your premises, whether you disagree with any use of personal devices at work, or are an evangelist for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) within your workplace, security should be paramount in the technical requirements for your business. We have seen some installations recently where the WiFi in the building is freely used by the visiting public and is connected to the same network as the business computers and equipment with no separation at all and a simple group of computers that have no passwords ... The potential result of such a configuration is that anyone who sets their mind to access your information and data can and will do so, the ability of smartphones to access information on other machines makes such things child's play (literally in some cases), and should be stopped immediately. If you consider that every Pub, Club, Hotel, Guest House, Garage, corner shop or café is expected to provide WiFi so that their clients can keep in touch with the world at a moments notice, the fastest way to do this is just give them the SSID and Password for your router provided by your Broadband provider. There is very little "out of the box" security enabled for this type of requirement but checking some basics can help. Basic Check: If you login to your router, there will probably be a section called WiFi where you can setup things like the SSID and Password ( you can make your SSID your business name or anything else to promote that it is yours ), in this section, or under security, you could see a setting for  Wireless Separation or Wireless Isolation or Client Isolation ( or similar ) that will allow your users only access out to the internet, they will not be able to see other devices on the network so they are restricted in their access and use. More Advanced Options: Some routers have a Guest Function, or Guest Zone ( again people call this a lot of things ), but this will do a similar job but usually is a bit more involved to setup. Whilst you are looking: Change the default wireless password to something else, and then make a note in your diary to change it again at a suitable date in the future. If you don't do this, then often the router has this written on the bottom or on a card and with it the Admin Password to get into the settings, change both of these otherwise a hawk-eyed, or camera assisted person can get these and make their own changes.
As a small aside but to reiterate the point, I went to a friends house and they weren't in, I called them and they said they would be back in about 30 minutes so I decided to wait, their router is in their porch window and has its back to the window, the SSID and Password are right there in front of me, I must stress that these are very good friends but it was a new router and I didn't have the credentials, but I just read them and I was connected. Note that I did tell them when they got back and got them to cover up the details!
What's the best option: The best option by far is to run two separate Virtual Lans or VLANS, with different SSID and Passwords that operate completely independantly. This can be a lot more complex to setup but when it is done correctly you will be in the best position to protect your business and data from unauthorised access. If you would like more information on any of the above points, why not give us a call - 01948 820787 - happy to help.
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Email and Website Spaghetti

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08 June 2017Steve F
I am sure that you know how much your business depends day to day on email, many businesses also now see their website as a critical part of their business strategy, however very few actually know whether they are in control of the building blocks that these systems work on or not. Investigating problems around email and websites, particularly domains and DNS issues over the past 20 years has shown that a large majority of Companies do not know if they own their own domain, on which their email and web presence is based. Only yesterday I was asked to look into the configuration for a potential new client, this showed that 5 separate providers were involved in the provision of their web presence, but more importantly, their domain, mycompany.co.uk  ( not their real one !) was owned by the IT provider that purchased it for them and not by the business itself or even the business owner. I like the odd scenario to hammer home a point, so imagine the IT Provider goes into liquidation, this brings up several problems:
  1. Your domain becomes part of his assets as it is in his name
  2. Their domain account will not be paid and therefore will be frozen
  3. The email service that they resell will also not be paid and will stop
  4. The web hosting service that they resell will stop
  5. You lose your email
  6. You lose your website
  7.  .....
So if we look at this, you now have to get control of your domain by appealing to Nominet and providing the relevant documentation and paying the fee to transfer the domain into your name and also to transfer it to a registrar (one of many companies that look after domains for clients), you have to setup the services you require for email and web hosting, and then connect them all together through DNS. To a non-technical person, this means no email or website for (on average) 3 weeks, but the majority of this time is proving that the domain is yours and not part of the assets of the company who have gone into administration. We have seen this take 6 weeks for a  .co.uk and up to 4 months for a .com because of various restrictions that are relevant to Gtld or top level domains. IF ... the domain was in your name, the process could be completed in 24 - 72 hours as far as email is concerned, if you have a backup of your website ( that's another story! ) then that can be back up within 24 hours in the majority of cases. So how do you know whether your domain is in your name? You can check in a "whois" service, this will give the name of the "registrant" which is the one you are interested in, you should be aware that some people pay for this information to be hidden from general view so if there are no results for a search or the name is obscured then you will need to dig further. What do you do if the registrant is not correct? Contact the person who registered it on your behalf and arrange for it to be changed, Nominet charges a small fee for this, but it is worth it! Once you have got the domain owner sorted have a look at the different people that look after different areas of your online presence and consider whether having these over one or two providers would be more beneficial to your business. If you would like to discuss your hosting or domain presence, feel free to get in touch and we can check the basics for you and give you advice on a way forward where you and your business are protected - 01948 820787
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How to start a business with IT in mind

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04 June 2017Steve F
Let's look at a quick scenario. "You are all excited, your new business venture is late in the stages of planning, you have a great name, you have found the perfect premises, you have ordered the table and chair and a phone line, you have paid your mate to create you a fantastic website, you've got your suppliers on board and they have agreed to give you a bit of credit, you have got a bank account setup, and at that point you have to go to the next stage and get your new office working..."
It's fair to say that I hear this every month and in the majority of cases my heart sinks, I am really excited for the new entrepreneur, but cold experience has told me that in the majority of cases at a time when they should be concentrating on selling their product and service, they are going to be fighting to get the simplest of back office bits working.
I have heard this so often that I decided that this Blog Post should be a list of the "gotcha's" that befall 80% of startup businesses so here you go, tick these off.
1. Before choosing or deciding a business name - Is the domain name corresponding to your business free? - .co.uk and / or .com as a minimum? (Beware - do not go and type in your name in a low cost domain name search, if you do then it is very common for the name to suddenly be registered and the "carpet bagger" that has done it will try and sell the domain back to you and inflated pricing that can be over a hundred times higher!)
2. Before purchasing a Laptop / Desktop for office use - Consider what you will do with it and then go for the lowest cost option, but expect to replace it within 2 years. If you are doing basic office functions, you do not need a top of the range touch screen machine with all the bells and whistles, basic office functions mean a basic system requirement.
3. Before buying a printer - "there is not such thing as cheap printing", I will repeat that ... "there is not such thing as cheap printing" .. what you need is a good business image, you will not get high-quality printing from a cheap inkjet, it is better to buy a cheap black and white laser printer which is the cheapest form of printing possible. Remember that everything that you send out to a client in paper format is a reflection of your business, in other words, if you send out an invoice or proposal on cheap paper with poor print quality then that is exactly what you will appear to be.
4. Before signing the lease on an office - please check the availability of broadband that fits your requirements. The vast majority of businesses now have a significant reliance on email and the internet, whether for selling or sourcing, if you expect to spend more than 1 hour per day on the internet, make sure that you can get at least Fibre Broadband to the Cabinet (FTTC). If you can't then you must have an overwhelming desire to work where you are proposing. 5. How are you going to backup your data - I know, it's boring, but the worst thing that can happen is that you lose your information, your client list, who owes you money, who do you owe money to. It is true that the vast majority of businesses that lose data through not having backups stop trading, you are up against a new business failure rate of 40% in 5 years so you don't need to have data loss as a reason for your business to fail. Whatever backup you chose, try and make it as a fit and forget solution so you or your staff, don't have to do anything at all to create the backup, the excitement of doing business will mean that you put off the routine and backup is a routine.
6. Connecting things - when you start, it may just be you, but then within a few months (hopefully) you will need some help, this means that you will need to communicate, this not only means talking but also connecting computers and systems together. You probably already did some of this when you got your broadband in, you may have used wireless, but you are carrying all your information around with you so now you need to start centralising this data or information so others can see it. Wireless is great for a short term, occasional connection so a great example is in a coffee shop, you walk in, grab your skinny latte and connect your laptop to the wireless so you can do a bit of work before that important meeting, it is not as good for all day everyday access in the office, wireless connections drop out, the technology is good, however if you have a file open and the connection drops then it is very likely that you will be re-entering the information, please use good old cables, CAT5E is the best value solution and if you decide to cable an office properly from day one, work on the principle of 4 network connections to every desk (I know it sounds a lot but you will thank me later! - honest) 7. Screens - Money is tight, you need to make some big decisions on what to spend your cash on, one small, low-cost productivity enhancers are 22" or larger monitor screens on computers and having two of them. I have persuaded a lot of clients over the years to use two monitors and almost without fail they would never go back to using one, also get 23" rather than 22" rather than 20" rather than 19" - in other words, the bigger the better up to 24", after that you are probably wasting money, the financial difference between 19" and 23" will be under £50 ! 8. GDPR - I know, you are just setting up your business, but the Global Data Protection Regulations ARE going to affect you in May 2018 so it is better that you get to know the basics before you have to and implement them in the processes and procedures that you have or create over then next months, there are lots of videos and information on the internet, take 15 minutes to get an overview now and you will save hours of time later. 9. Telecoms - Look to integrate your telecoms so that your landline and mobile have the ability to work as one, this can be very effective in ensuring that you are "in the office" when you aren't, you will need to be available when your new business gets operational and having an adaptive telecoms strategy can make a significant difference and save you money as well. 10. And And And .. - Be in no doubt that you are going to be fully employed getting your business up and running, I personally get great satisfaction from watching new businesses set up and then grow, I have been there, I know how hard it can be to get to a position of stability but in all cases, you will get there faster if you can concentrate on selling your product or service and "forget" about the back-end systems ..
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IT and the Hard Sell ?

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24 May 2017Steve F
The IT Industry, in general, has always been known as a "smoke and mirrors" show, the predominant reason is the requirement for a reasonable amount of technical knowledge in order to understand what any sales rep is telling you, but then isn't that the normal state of affairs, we tend not to buy products that we know or sell ourselves, what would be the point?
I have to say I am always surprised about how few times Clients and potential clients ask the "why" questions, .. Why is that the best solution for me? Why should I go with that brand? Why should I buy from you? and of course many more of a similar ilk.
The Hard Sell in the IT sphere is definitely there more and more, the low margins on hardware due to the so-called "power of the internet" means that Companies can't spend the time with clients and this has caused a ripple effect of getting the top line numbers in as a priority and this had a detrimental effect on long-term viability of the client base.
I am proud to say that I have clients that have been with my Company for over 15 years, they are the ones that we have built partnerships with, it may take 2 years to propose a change and have it accepted, but it doesn't matter as the right product at the right time does eventually create a win-win situation, anything else is just moving money.
I have to say that we are somewhat old fashioned in that relationships are important, you can probably go and buy (almost) any product that we sell a few pence cheaper on the internet, but is that really what you are looking for?
I can see that in 10 years everything will be purchased directly from a few sources, the like of Amazon are spending millions in ensuring that happens as it is their business model. Once this happens the requirement for additional services will be the "soft" parts of the deal. I have for many years offered clients the opportunity to purchase hardware from wherever the wish, we will still support it however the client has to deal with Warranty issues outside the contracted arrangement as we have spent time developing our relationships with the manufacturers for a reason.
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5 things you need to know about GDPR today

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07 May 2017Steve F
It appears from the people I have been talking to in the last few months that the information about these new regulations on Data Privacy have not been getting through. In a straw poll at a business event 60% of the small businesses present had not heard of the changes and only 5% of those who had, had actually started any sort of planning for implementation by the deadline. Here are just 5 quick points about GDPR and how it will effect your business. 1. It becomes Law in MAY 2018 The clock is ticking, if you haven't heard anything then start investigating now as you have a lot to do before May 2018! 2. It Applies to ALL Companies GDPR applies to all Companies that process data about, or belonging to European Citizens, this is the first GLOBAL Data Protection Law. 3.It tightens the rules for all You will have to prove that you have valid consent to collect, hold or use the personal data of anyone covered by the new regulations ( it is expected that current consent rules are not valid under the GDPR ) 4. Any Data Breach of ANY SIZE must be reported within 72 hours The new regulation requires all organisations to notify the local data protection authority of a data breach within 72 hours of discovering it. 5.It requires privacy by design You have to be able to show that all processes and systems that you use, install or operate have taken the new regulations into account. I will be expanding on the subject of GDPR over the next 12 months, as a last extra point for you to consider, for those not compliant and who experience a major data breach, the breach could lead to fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover for the preceding financial year, whichever is the greater ...
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Microsoft EES Licensing for Schools – How it Works

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19 June 2017 Steve F
** If you are looking for OVS-ES / EES pricing, these change on a daily basis due to the $/£ fluctuations, please call us on 01948 820787  option 1 and we will get you up to date pricing for any OVS-ED / EES Licencing requirements you have ** The Microsoft annual subscription service for schools is almost certain to make looking after your schools Microsoft software licencing easier than it has ever been, and we have to say that for most schools it will be considerably cheaper! Microsoft EES or "Enrollment for Education Solutions" is the new alternative to the older Microsoft Schools Agreement for volume licensing. It has many advantages and also adds much easier administration and a considerably reduced Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). The time spent to administer the Microsoft EES licence system is also greatly reduced which we know will be music to the ears of Bursers and Business Managers everywhere!
 The way it works :
1. You count your staff and not your computers The Microsoft EES scheme calculates your cost by determining your Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) staff and not the number of computers in the school. The FTE calculation is easily produced by simply determining how many staff you have that work over 200 hours per annum and have access to (i.e. use) computers in your school, this gives your FTE value. You would not include staff such as caretakers or gardeners (unless they use IT in their work). 2. PC and MAC's are Covered You can use the Microsoft EES scheme to licence Microsoft Software for MAC and PC Desktops, Laptops and then add Servers as required 3. Annual Calculation You only need to provide the numbers of staff as the FTE value for your Microsoft Initial EES Licence application. Each year we will contact you to confirm this number, adjust for any additional staff (or any reduction) and your payment will then cover you for the next 12 months. If you install a new Computer Suite during the year (from i7 Technologies Ltd of course!) then you don't need to buy more licences, you only have to pay additional licences if you take on more staff. 3. Downgradable to Previous Versions With the Microsoft EES Licence scheme, you get downgrade rights allowing you to use older versions of Microsoft Software, this is a great advantage is you have older equipment, or if you want to stage the transfer to newer versions. 4. Software Assurance Included Microsoft EES Licencing includes Microsoft Software Assurance making sure that your school always has access to the latest versions of Microsoft software if you require them. 5. Teachers - Working from home Microsoft EES Licencing include "Work At Home" rights so that staff can prepare their lessons at home using the same schools Microsoft Office licence. Exclusions: Students that have a PC or laptop assigned for their exclusive use are not covered by EES and require a separate (but still low cost) licence for the software on their system. There are very few reasons for you NOT to use Microsoft EES Licencing for your school, call us today to discuss your requirements in detail, we can provide you with pricing, fulfil your order and make sure you are fully licenced for the next twelve months. Call Ben  in our sales team - 01948 820787 today for details and pricing for your school.
28.06.2017 Reply from Steve F
A quick update on this post, there are some questions about how EES will be affected in the future by the agreement between the UK Government and Microsoft. For subscription Schools on OVS-ES/ESS, the agreement has been reached that Microsoft will not align their pricing with the rest of Europe until July 2018, this is to promote the move of all schools to a Cloud Infrastructure. What this means to you is that to ensure you take the greatest advantage from the OVS-ES/EES agreement, you need to ensure that you renew your agreement for ONE YEAR immediately and then in June 2018 you should renew on a new three-year agreement which will allow you to take full advantage of the EES Pricing and maximise your savings under the EES. Licensing scheme, If you want assistance with this, then please get in touch.