Posts Tagged ‘IT efficiency’

The Cloud and Microsoft Office 365

February 14, 2012

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Guest blog by Geoff Rigsby, Microsoft Account Manager at Synnex

On a weekly basis I am asked, “What is Office 365 and how can it help me?”

For instance, if you’re running a small business with 5-10 employees, setting up your own IT infrastructure can be a monumental task.  First, you have to purchase the hardware and software like an HP Server and Windows Server 2008 software.  Second, if you want to have your own email domain, you’ll need to purchase Exchange Server software.  And if you want to share files between employees, you will need SharePoint Server software and you can’t run that without SQL Server software.  It adds up and before you know it, you’ve just spent $50,000!  In addition, you will need someone to configure and maintain.

This is a great deal of expense for just a few employees to communicate, collaborate, and work.  Here is where Office 365 is beneficial.  It eliminates the need for a large infrastructure investment and allows you to take advantage of enterprise IT tools for a fraction of the cost. Office 365 will give you the same productivity and collaboration tools delivered in a subscription based service.  It is licensed on a per-user per-month plan and allows you to scale up or down easily and as-needed.

Depending on the needs of your company, you can obtain every option; Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online, and Office Professional Plus in a nice, neatly bundled package or as separate units.  This allows  all of your employees to easily and securely access the same information, from anywhere, anytime – whether it be on a PC, phone, or web browser. User management is made easier by using a single administration access point that allows you to set up new user accounts, control access to features, and receive status updates on all services and tools in real time.  Support is available directly through Microsoft but I recommend working with a Microsoft Partner.  Partners can help you choose the right services, provide added capabilities, and assist with the transition.  They can efficiently manage your network and provide ongoing support for Office 365 giving you more time to run your business.

Paying for Office 365 is easy!  Just work with a Partner. They will send you a quote.  Then you accept the agreement and submit your credit card information in a secure transaction.  Payments are scheduled automatically each month to the card on file.

For more information on Office 365 and how it can help your company, visit www.microsoft.com/office365 and make sure to work with a Microsoft Partner in your area.

Geoff is a Microsoft Partner Account Manager working at Synnex.  You can contact Geoff at: v-grigsb@microsoft.com

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Talk Like a CIO

August 1, 2011

Talk Like a CIO[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]The Chief Information Officer (CIO), sometimes called Chief Technology Officer (CTO), coined in the early 1980s is a rather recent addition to the corporate governance structure. It makes sense that the position coincided with the technology explosion as companies implemented IT to gain competitive advantage. Arguably, what was once IT competitive advantage is now essential for daily operations. Even so someone has to evaluate IT investment to be sure that it serves the organization by providing benefits at an affordable cost. Without that oversight, technology projects would be rapidly become science projects that few, other than the IT department, could understand.

No disrespect to IT folks. As an engineer, I have seen this phenomenon many times. A concept to make the organization more efficient, a product more user-friendly or automate manual tasks spirals into the depths of a techno-black hole with little hope of escape. As an engineering manager, I always put two engineers on a project as a way to get a product suitable for the end-user. Often one engineer working alone would come up with solutions too complicated for the casual user. Technical elegance usually trumps corporate benefit in the technology mind. For the company to realize a return-on-investment from any technology project, someone has to watch the ROI and that’s where the CIO is essential.

The CIO doesn’t have to be a technology expert. In fact, many of today’s top CIOs don’t have a computer science, engineering or programming background, they have a business background and leadership skills. They have learned how to apply technology to solve business problems, foster change and manage the bottom line.

Although definitions will vary, here is a short list of common terms so that you can – Ay oh whey oh, Talk like a CIO.

ROI – Return on Investment is not a uniquely CIO phrase, it is spoken freely by all C-levels and is specific to the investment efficiency required by an organization. Every company defines its payback period and specifics for an acceptable ROI. Often a technology project does not generate revenue so the ROI can be tricky to quantify. Here is where the CIO can be creative and use avoided costs or cost savings to frame the ROI discussion.

Payback Period – The amount of time that it takes to make up or payback the cost of the project. Usually used for revenue projects, but the same rules as in ROI can apply.

Technology Proposal – Whether you are developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to bid the job or completing the job in-house, you need a proposal that has a statement of need and cost-benefit justification. The CIO is critical in ensuring that the proposal meets the organizational needs and obtains budget approval.

Cost Benefit Analysis – Exactly what the name implies, to determine if the project is worth funding. In any economic analysis, do nothing is always a choice.

Bleeding Edge Technology – Technology so new that the risk and expense is high.

State of the Art, Leading Edge (or Cutting Edge) Technology – Technology that is at the pinnacle of available solutions. It may or may not provide competitive advantage. This term can be synonymous with Bleeding Edge Technology.

Buy In – The commitment of stakeholders to support the decision.

Send me your terms and definitions that help you “Talk like a CIO.”

Clouds in an Azure Sky

January 30, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Clouds are made of increased bandwidth and storage blended with the advances in virtualization and remote access. Today’s technology allows us to compute anywhere, anytime. The sky is clear blue for cloud computing, but it hasn’t always been that way. 

Cloud computing grew out of the centralized or mainframe model. For those who remember mainframes, it was the only way to compute. We had remote access, but it was cumbersome, slow and expensive. Programmers got in the habit of coding all night long when rates were the cheapest. Then those long, sleepless nights were replaced by distributed computing, a computer for everyone, but somehow programmers still program all night. 

The distributed computing model was embraced rapidly. With amazing graphics and Internet availability, the computer became a household appliance.  But distributed computing had its drawbacks, it was hard to interface disparate systems and collaborate in real-time. Recently, 100% availability and remote connections at LAN speeds have resurrected the centralized computing model with a new name. You could say that computing has come full circle back to a centralized computing model that we call Cloud Computing.  It is provocative, exciting and revolutionary. 

New technology holds a dilemma as most computer users don’t really care about the technology; they just want it to work easily and reliability.  And business owners are only slightly interested in the merits of a distributed or centralized computer model. They want computer systems that are economical, productive and work without needing a staff of IT gurus. 

The cloud or hosted computer solution (called ASP, SaaS, Cloud Services) has been around for years, but has enjoyed only limited success.  Most of the early adopters had sophisticated IT experience and the trained staff to develop and manage cloud solutions. Today, even popular hosted applications have reduced features online or make it difficult to migrate out of the cloud. Microsoft has addressed these issues with Azure.  It is powerful enough to host your world-class enterprise datacenter with the reliability, efficiency and agility you demand, yet provides simple, scalable, portable services. 

Microsoft Azure supports three roles: Web role, Worker role and a Virtual Machine (VM) role.  Enhancements are planned for the Web and Worker roles that have been used by many companies for programming and development. The new VM role will provide a generic environment that can be used for test or production.  It will also compete with Google and Amazon offerings. Learn more about Microsoft Azure and Cloud Power.

Azure SQL provides high-availability, fault tolerant relational database services in the cloud. You can serve local or cloud-based applications and only pay for what you use. Administration is simplified. You don’t have to install, setup, patch or manage software. Built on SQL Server you can leverage the same development and management tools used locally. Learn more with SQL Azure videos.

Azure has great appeal to programmers and developers as is evidenced in the keynote and sessions at PDC10, but for users the cloud is still a confusing concept. Perhaps the average user will never really understand or be awed by the technology that fuels cloud computing, but it will be widely used because of its economy and availability. 

Cloud computing will enjoy widespread use until the next technology revolution replaces it with another better, faster and less expensive solution. Who knows what that might be, but it might look a little like distributed computing.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

Top IT Trends for 2011

January 11, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Compiling our list of the top technology trends for 2011 was enjoyable. We got to review our 2010 predictions and look ahead with optimism. Unfortunately, economic woes continued through 2010 delaying the expected IT expenditures and slowing growth.  Again, the trends haven’t changed much year-over-year as technology is a quiet revolution. But don’t be disappointed, those same trends are driving new models that will revolutionize the way we do business.  As technology advances, the numbers continue to drive IT investments. Businesses will implement common sense infrastructure improvements and avoid the glitz. The glitz will come from consumer electronics this year as mobile devices become better, cheaper and faster.

Cloud Computing – The Application Server Provider (ASP) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model is Cloud Computing.  More than ever, this is a technology in search of a moniker that will catch on and become a household name.  We all cloud compute even if we don’t quite grasp the concept. From our social media sites to our online backup to our online applications, each monthly subscription is a testament that cloud computing solutions work. This way of computing through the Internet will continue to grow offering more and improved services at competitive prices. 

Mobile Devices and Applications – SmartPhones are considered one of the hottest items for consumers.  The use of mobile applications has gained such acceptance that an explosion of development, hoping to cash in on commercial success, will bring even more mobile apps to our handhelds.  Context-aware computing which has been around for over a decade may see 2011 as its breakthrough year.

Business Analytics – The amount of electronic data is now over a zettabyte (that’s a one with twenty-one zeroes) and there is no end in sight. But data has a shelf life and it has to be processed before expiration to make sense of or profit from the analysis. With increased computing power, a terabyte of data can be processed, measured and interpreted in real-time allowing for quick business decisions. Computer programs, algorithms and models will take advantage of the processing speed to give timely information. Business strategies and marketing tactics will be altered immediately to reflect patterns revealed by the numbers.  Business acumen is essential as the numbers will continue to be governed by GIGO (Garbage In – Garbage Out).

Work from Anywhere – Fueled by the growth and availability of bandwidth and Cloud Computing, we will be able to conduct real business from anywhere.  Files and documents will be migrated into the cloud so that workers will have anytime, anywhere access. Productivity tools will aid the worker while providing efficiency measures to the employer. Communications from just about anywhere will allow us to buy, sell and converse seamlessly. Tasks considered too complicated to be mobile will be done routinely on-the-go.  Speech recognition will provide the necessary hands free environment.

Social Media – The transformation of the way we communicate, personally and professionally, will continue unabated. Social Media continues to be the darling of marketing. Certainly, the players will change as Fortuna spins her fickle wheel, but online social interaction is the future of human communications. We will find ways to make it more significant and efficient, but there will continue to be spam, scams and information overload, just like it was in the old way of communicating – remember junk mail! Demand for social media consulting will continue and the best opportunities are likely to be for small companies providing services to the Fortune 500.

Absent from the list is Green IT and Smart Grid Computing.  Green IT certainly has its place but economics have taken precedent over stewardship. Smart Grid initiatives are quickly developing but the crystal ball is too cloudy to see if it will take root this year.  We will continue to watch Smart Grid as it is a promising technology trend.

Disclaimer:  Like horoscopes, our predictions for the Top IT Trends of 2011 are general in nature and for entertainment purposes only.

If you have your own trends, send to me at mary@lansystems.com.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

Microsoft Office 2010: The best new features in Access

August 22, 2010

[tweetmeme source=”LANSystems” only_single=false]If you have never used a relational database because you felt it was just too complicated, give a look at Access.  Access 2010 has simplified database functions and added ready-to-go templates to get you started. Information stored in spreadsheets and documents can be easier to understand and less time consuming to manage in a relational database model.  Not only can you save time, but you can make your data more meaningful and perform more meaningful analysis.  And if you are using a product that uses Access to store your data, you will be able to better understand the tables, reports and relationships.

Fast, easy database creation

Ready-to-go Templates – Use the available templates to create a marketing list or sales pipeline without being a database expert.  The templates are designed to give you the structure you need to get started and let you expand as you become more familiar with using Access.

Use modular components – These prebuilt components allow you to build the most common tasks into your database.  Go to Create – Application Parts after making your selection, the wizard will guide you through the setup and make your choices obvious.  There are on-demand help videos that explain how to use Access. The videos are surprisingly easy to follow with clear language and demos that take you through the screens step-by-step.

  Application Parts provide modular components for your Access databases 

Forms and reports with realistic, targeted analysis  

Conditional formatting – Use data bars to manage your rules and create professional reports that are understandable and informative. Rather than trying to “crowbar” your data into available formats, you can customize the presentation and make your data mean more to organization.  Stay focused at your sales and marketing meetings by using reports that everyone will recognize and appreciate.

Conditional formatting now supports data bars 

Office themes – Choose themes with fonts, colors and designs that match your other Microsoft Office products that demonstrate consistency and branding.

Backstage – The Microsoft Office Backstage view replaces the traditional file menu with an ergonomic approach that uses In and Out features for efficiency.  The improved Ribbon lets you access your favorite commands quickly and create custom tabs to personalize the way you work.

Developer quality without writing code

Expression Builder – Enhanced functionality with IntelliSense to greatly simplify formula and expression building. With these intuitive tools you will spend less time troubleshooting relationship errors and more time building a valuable database.

Make your databases available on the Internet with new Web databases 

Macro Designer – Add basic logic to your database, quickly and easily even if you are not familiar with databases. If you’re an experienced Access user, you’ll find the enhancements allow you to use the complex logic move efficiently than ever. Extend your database application with increased performance and confidence.

The revamped Macro Designer makes easier for you to add basic logic to your database

Work from anywhere

Online – Post your database online and then access, view, and edit them from the Web. Users without an Access client can open Web forms and reports via a browser and their changes are automatically synchronized.

You acn post your databases online and then access, view, and edit them from the Web

For organizations of all types and sizes, Access 2010 allows you to be more productive, flexible and cost-effective. You can combine tasks in Access that previously required several programs and labor intensive analysis to make better decisions for your business.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html 

If you have any questions or need help with the instructions, email me at: mary@lansystems.com.

Windows 7 features from our favorites list

May 24, 2010

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]If you’ve been holding on to that old computer because you didn’t want to give up Windows XP, we have good news.  Windows 7 is simpler to use, more responsive, and full of new possibilities. So take the plunge – we did.  At LAN Systems, we are using Windows 7 on our desktops and have some favorite features that we would like to share with you.

Backup and Restore 

Greatly improved for Windows 7, Backup and Restore gives you peace of mind that your critical files are preserved. You can easily select your important files or let Windows choose what to backup. Libraries are an easy way to collect files that may be scattered throughout your PC.  Choose a backup schedule and you can be confident that your data is preserved. 

Be sure that you backup to a drive other than the one that contains Windows.  So if you don’t have more than one hard drive installed, use a DVD or external hard drive.  If you have Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate, you can backup to a network drive so that the network backup will also duplicate a copy of your files.

Windows Search

Quick and efficient describes the new Windows 7 Search. No longer will you search in vain for where you saved that last document.  You’ll be able to find more things in more places—and do it faster. Libraries allow you to organize your documents into a single virtual location.

Start typing into the Start menu search box, and you’ll instantly see a list of documents, pictures, music, and e-mail that meet your criteria.  Narrow the search by date, file type and other categories you select. Highlighted keywords and text snippets show matches that you can easily scan.

Snipping Tool

If you like the Print Screen tools, you are going to love the Snipping Tools.  Use to make a training document, step-by-step instructions or show examples of what you are seeing.  After you capture a snip, you can write or draw on or around the snip image. This allows your own personal notes without bringing the capture into Paint or Word.

It’s easy to send the snip with your notes, just click on Send Snip and choose the email recipient or location to send.

Sticky Notes

These notes will never fall off the monitor and lodge behind the desk. Windows 7 Sticky Notes are one of the most useful and fun desktop enhancements.  Organize your to-do list, tasks, notes and phone messages.  You can always edit the text, change its color and speedily resize, collapse, and flip through notes.

If you use a Tablet PC or a touchscreen, Windows 7 Sticky Notes support pen and touch input, too—you can even switch between different input methods within the space of a single note. Sticky Notes is available in the Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions of Windows 7.

Desktop Themes

Windows 7 has eye-catching themes for every occasion. The graphics are vibrant and new.  You can choose beautiful landscapes and nature backgrounds or modern, surprising themes that every passerby will admire. No matter what taste, there is something for everyone.

Themes and screen savers can display slide shows.  Window border colors and sound schemes are part of your theme.  Choose the theme as it is or add your personal touch.  Need more choices, download free themes from the Personalization Gallery.

Let us know about your favorites and you could be featured in our Windows 7 series. Send your story to mary@lansystems.com.

For more computer support and technology topics visit LAN Systems at:http://www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

Using newsletters to reach customers

May 4, 2010

[tweetmeme source=lansystems only_single=false]Keeping in touch with customers is more than sending sales offers.  Good correspondence should include items that are of interest and benefit.  Be sure that the format is pleasing to your readers. Often less is more. Don’t clutter your newsletter with ads or marketing material.  Spend time to optimize your content and format so you get more readers that look forward to each issue.

Choose a format

Format is a personal choice, but be sure that you choose a format that is pleasing to your readers.  Depending on your industry and customer base, you may have long or short articles. There are many ways to test format, but be sure to test and modify.  You can test with a select group of customers or you could create several formats and see which one works the best.  Both of those strategies take time.  At a minimum, track the opens and clicks from each issue of your online newsletter. If you use a newsletter service, it is easy to get these metrics.

Layout – Carefully choose a layout that is attractive and suited to your readers. Putting your logo at the top and information about your company and offerings on the sidebar is a classic format.  You may want to experiment with some more daring themes, but once you choose a format stick with it so your readers will recognize each issue.  Newsletter format is branding.

Article length – The length of articles not only depends on the topic but your readers. If your readers are computer programmers and your article is about specifics of programming, you can write long informative articles that are well read.  If you write articles for business people, you have to quickly get to the point. For your online newsletter, use links so the reader can learn more about a topic. 

Testing length and content – Make sure that you are tracking clicks on the links.  This way you will know the link popularity by the number of clicks.  When a customer clicks on the link, you can track by email address and make a sales follow-up call.  But don’t tell the customer that you are calling because they clicked on a link.  That’s a sure way to turn off your prospect.

Use pictures and graphics – People like to look at pictures.  In each issue, be sure to include a couple of attractive pictures that match the content.  There are several royalty free sites where you can get pictures, illustrations and videos for a reasonable cost. 

Add Content

Use real news, tips and offers. Examples are: company and industry news, business tips and advice, money saving offers and announcement of new products. Don’t use filler, it will be obvious to your readers.  And once you start, you have to be consistent.  If you have a quarterly newsletter, be sure to publish it quarterly!

Company news – Give real information about what your company is doing for employees, customers and the community.  Press releases are valuable for promoting your company. Use the content created for press releases for your newsletters. Press releases are written in the third person, so be sure to change to first person narratives for newsletters.  First person articles are more personal and allow you to connect with customers. Be sure to include any events or activities that you are hosting. 

Industry news – Let your customers know about industry news that you find interesting.  This requires that you keep updated on what is going on in your industry.  Make sure the news is relevant. If it’s not informational, don’t use it.  

Business tips and advice – This is the most important content of your newsletter as it establishes you as the expert.  Use time-saving and money-saving tips that have step-by-step examples or specific case studies. For business advice, be clear and concise.  Give examples on how you have achieved benefits.  These types of articles can be used for your blog, technical notes or web page content.

Article reprint and guest contributors – These are easy ways to build content.  Be sure you have permission for reprints and that guest articles are relevant to your content.  Inviting guests to submit to your newsletter can be good for partnership building. 

Money saving offers – Use special offers in your newsletters that are really unique.  Offers should be a good value and relevant to your market.  Don’t use the same offer over and over. Make sure that the offer is targeted and special. You don’t have to include a special offer in each issue of your newsletter.

New products – Whether your own product or a partner product, add new products that help your customers be more efficient and productive.  In general, the case for products should have a value statement that shows how you can increase revenue or reduce costs.  Some products have a “cool” factor that you may want to include even if you can’t quantify the benefits.

Before you publish – proofread!

For more tips, visit:  http://www.lansystems.com