Finding reliable IT Consulting in Brisbane

For many small to medium sized businesses, IT is not high on their agenda. It’s a necessary evil that sucks money away from their core business. Often confusing, complex and expensive, technology is regularly viewed as an expense instead of an asset.

I believe that one of the main reasons we have such a poor view of IT in the SMB space is that all too often, IT Consultants are called in to solve business problems and sometimes those consultants only know one thing – IT. This is great if you know for sure that what you need is a technology solution but our experience indicates that’s rarely the case. This leads to expensive programs of work that don’t produce good outcomes.

The reality is that not all business problems are solved with technology. A significant percentage of our success stories over the years have involved a combination of process changes, training and some form of technology adjustment (albeit, new technology or modifications to existing technology). A good IT consultant takes the time to understand your business, the problem(s) you’re having and what your desired outcome is. It’s focusing on the outcome that yields the best results.

Over that time, I’ve also learned that the business owners and key stakeholders have to take responsibility for some of the problematic projects that appeared around the traps. In short, I’ve seen plenty of stakeholders, tell consultants what the solution should be. An inexperienced consultant will simply give them what they ask for and this won’t necessarily achieve the desired outcome. A seasoned professional IT Consultant will always steer the conversation towards outcomes and defining how we get from point A to point B.

Small projects require the same diligence as large projects. Not understanding what the customer wants to achieve can leave you with an unhappy customer, a failed project and no chance of repeat business. I personally know a lot of IT consultants in Brisbane and have worked with many in both large and small environments on projects with budgets of five thousand dollars through to a hundred million dollars. Many are excellent operators and I’ve learned much from them. Some have been the exact opposite.

So what should you look for when shopping around for an IT Consultant in Brisbane? I’d suggest that the first thing is to test if the consultant is listening. You want to find someone who’s willing to take the time to understand the problem before they offer a solution. You want an IT consultant that understands the importance of sharing information and has excellent communication skills. Technologies come and go. Finding people with a particular technical skillset is relatively easy. Finding someone you can rely on to understand your business and who’ll get invested in your success is a far more valuable resource.

Find an IT consultant you can trust. Someone who’ll go the extra mile and is willing to stand by their recommendations and remedy any issues when and if they arise. There are many IT Consultants in Brisbane but not all are equally skilled, experienced or qualified to offer you the support and assistance your business deserves. Shop around and don’t settle for second best.

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Is Apple finally getting “family” friendly?

Technology sprawl is increasing. Our lives are becoming more complicated and it’s only going to get worse. As technology advances more and more consumer devices are being internet enabled. Our “family” environment is increasing reliant on technology and our kids are being more and more tech savy. With the increased exposure to internet and internet enabled technologies comes the inherent danger for our young loved ones.

I’ll admit, I’ve been an Apple fan for a while now. I still use Microsoft and Google products but I generally preferApple products over other vendors offerings. The main reason for this is uniformity. Apple has been working hard to get synergies across it’s product range from the iOS powered handhelds to the serious Mac Pro workstations (and everything in between).

With iOS8, Apple will introduce iCloud Family Sharing. This allows you to create Apple IDs for your kids and have real control over what the buy for their device. One of the very nice behind the scenes features is the family calendar. All Apple IDs in a “family” now have a common calendar and can see and edit Calendar entries marked “family”. For my family, this is a god-send. We’re a terribly busy modern family with the kids involved in many extracurricular activities. Having a shared family calendar built in and across the devices provides a level of awareness of this “busy” life. When one member of the family creates an entry in the family calendar – we all get notified!

Sure you can write it all up on a wall calendar but it quickly becomes cluttered and more or less useless. Having an electronic version of the family calendar allows all us to be aware of when or professional and family life conflict and more importantly, provides opportunity for us to reschedule or cancel activities so we can actually get some quality time together. Activating the family calendar in iOS8 is dead simple. Just add the family members iclouds account to your family, setup the adults to approve purchases and away you go. When you want to create a shared calendar entry, just create the calendar entry as normal and select the “family” calendar now under iCloud (in additional to your personal one). If someone else edits the entry, you’ll be notified by iCloud.

I really love this feature in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite and I’m sure it will be a big hit with families who use a lot of Apple tech in their homes and lives.

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The hidden costs of IT

In all my years in IT, I have found there are many constants. One of these seems to be the lack of understanding of business owners, managers and senior executives in relation to the real cost of IT in their respective businesses.

Small business owners are by far the worst when it comes to estimating and budgeting for IT and it’s my view that much of this comes from a lack of understanding of both what’s being implemented and why. The lack of understanding leads to unrealistic expectations of costs. Let’s look at a very simple case in point.

I recently carried out some work for a client who purchased some IT equipment. Without naming names and giving anything away I’ll change the details to protect the innocent while still making my point. Our client (let’s call him Jim) recently purchased a new backup device. Jim did this without seeking any advice as to it’s suitability for his environment, compatibility with his current infrastructure or any of the ongoing costs (like media).

After spending $2500.00 on the device, Jim became frustrated when he couldn’t get it work. Jim thinks of himself as a bit of IT hand and to be fair, knows his way around a PC fairly well and has a reasonable understanding of servers and networking concepts. After 2 days, Jim was ready to throw his shiny new toy out the window. He could not get the server to recognise the device, let alone backup any data. Jim reluctantly picked up the phone and gave me a call.

After a small amount of research and downloading the right drivers, rebooting the server and some additional configuration, we had the device up and running. Now for the bad news…

Jim thought he was buying a Mercedes Benz but what he ended up with was a speed limited 20 year old VW. It turns out that this device works great when connected via a suitable interface (which Jim’s server didn’t have) and the server is running the latest version of Microsoft Server (which Jim’s wasn’t). In Jim’s environment, the device’s speed was severely impeded by having to operate over USB2.0 and the backups were slower than his existing solution. To add insult to injury, the media cost nearly 4 times that of his existing media and he didn’t have a second unit offsite that he could use to restore the media in the event of a major disaster.

Poor Jim! He was pretty annoyed with himself. Instead of just cutting his losses, Jim insisted on forging ahead. A new interface card for the server, an OS upgrade and 10 new tapes. Now we’re cooking. The total cost, including Jim’s time (he bills out at $2100 a day and it took him 2 days) was:

$2500.00 – backup unit
$4200.00 – in lost time
$  200.00 – investigation into device issues
$  220.00 – interface card
$1600.00 – OS upgrade (software + IT consulting)
$  600.00 – new media
$  800.00 – more IT consulting to sort out issues with other server software as a result of the OS upgrade


Total of $10,120.00 (and that doesn’t include the spare unit for DR)

Now the really sad thing is that all this started because Jim was convinced he had a problem that didn’t actually exist. Having read one bad review of a technology he was using (that had never failed him) and being told in the same article that another technology was far superior (without any context), Jim was convinced he needed to act. He was told it was plug and play, he didn’t have to be an IT whiz to install and configure it and everything would be just dandy. Jim could have cut his losses and sold the device to minimise his mistake but he chose not to admit he’d made a bad decision and that is where things spiralled out of control.

The moral behind all this is simple. IT is a complex beast if you don’t fully understand your environment. Every day we’re being told that it’s getting simpler but what we’re not told is that isn’t the whole truth. Consumer grade IT is getting more powerful and simpler to install but business grade equipment and services still require significant investment in IT knowledge to successfully deploy them in a business environment.

Business owners should recognise that IT is complex and that decisions about technology need to be understood so that the decision is an informed one. We would never suggest that a business owner hand over the decision to someone in IT – that’s like giving the keys to your new Ferrari to your mechanic’s teenage son. Instead we advocate for business owners and managers to get themselves informed by having someone who understands the technology and their environment explain the full costs and implications of any IT procurement. This will inevitably cost you a few dollars (assuming you don’t get free consulting or are already paying for Managed Services) but in the end, it could save you thousands.

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Election 2013

The election can’t come soon enough for us. The main reason is certainty. We want to get on with it and so do our customers. The problem is that our customers are not spending until they know which party, Labor or Coalition will be running the country after September 7. There are many services based small businesses in similar situations to us that just want this over.

As a small business owner and operator in the IT sector, I’ve listed to what both candidates have to say around improving the situation for small businesses. Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd have been going toe to toe with promises left, right and centre but neither of them has addresses a key area for small businesses in the services sector. For me, the issue is PSI. The rules around Personal Services Income for small business operators are killing the potential for growth and competition in the services sector.

If PSI rules were relaxed, businesses would be able to use services income to employ additional staff, which in turn would generate more tax revenue and inject more money back into the local economy. It would drive down prices through competition and provides growth opportunities that some businesses can’t achieve any other way due to excessive risk. I can’t see a downside for the government in relaxing the rules.

If anyone has the ear of Mr Abbott or Mr Rudd, please pass on my wish…

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The ‘Like’ epidemic – please stop it!

Facebook 'Like' scam

Over the past 6 months I’ve noticed that many of my Facebook friends have been fooled into ‘liking’ and commenting on a picture in the belief that the picture will somehow change into something else.

IT WON’T! Please stop liking these posts

You may not realise it, but when you like these posts you are inadvertently helping some dodgy bugger increase the liklihood of his/her profile being ranked higher within Facebook’s own algorithms used to determine what shows up in peoples various newsfeeds. By spreading these scam images around Facebook and having thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of users liking their posts, these users are able to spread their marketing posts to more people in their newsfeeds.

Use Facebook responsibly

So for everyone’s sake, please stop spreading these around Facebook. There is no mechanism on Facebook that will change a users post based on the comments it gets. It’s not possible and it’s likely it never will be. When you see a post that looks like it does something that you’ve never seen Facebook do in the past – exercise some common sense. If there was a new feature that allowed this to work – Facebook would be publicising it and EVERYONE would be using it.

And that’s all I have to say about that.
– Forest Gump.

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Facebook privacy and all the spam

Facebook settings menu

Over the past couple of months I’ve noticed an increase in the number of my Facebook friends updating their status with messages about unfriending people if they don’t modify their privacy settings and various other iterations of the same old spam status updates that have been floating around Facebook for ages.

As a general rule, these status updates are completely bogus and are initially spread by individuals with a ‘look at me’ complex. Unfortunately, they’re often worded in such a way that a large number of non-technically-minded Facebook users interpret as being a threat to their Facebook security and/or privacy and consequently ‘spread the word’. Before long, a single status update by one doofus has spread to a million or more users in the blink of an eye.

The reality of Facebook security is this:

  • It’s not perfect – nothing ever is
  • Only Facebook programmers and you can control who sees your status updates and pictures and who can post on your timeline
  • If someone updates their status and uses A LOT OF CAPS IN THE TEXT, they’re either implying their audience is deaf,  or it’s spam.

Over time, I have tweaked my Facebook settings to get what I think works for me. Here’s what I use.

Security Settings

  • Use a unique and obscure password (consider a password tool like 1password)
  • Account settings / security and make sure secure browsing is enabled
  • If you’re paranoid, enable login notifications and login approvals (2 factor authentication – this sends a code to your mobile and requires the code for you to login)
Facebook Security Settings

Privacy

For privacy, I use the following settings:

Privacy Settings

Limit Who can see my stuff? to Friends except Acquaintances. This allows you to bucket people that you’ve worked with in the past that maybe you want to keep in touch with, or current colleagues and/or clients into a group that you can easily filter your “real” private moments from (like when you post you’re on holidays but you told your boss you were in hospital).

Limit Who can look me up? to Friends

I personally don’t mind if search engines link to my timeline – it’s only valid for public posts anyway as anyone who’s not a friend can’t access my timeline.

When it comes to privacy, you also need to configure the timeline section:

Timeline settings

I set Who can post on my timeline? to Friends. After all, I don’t want randoms posting rubbish on my timeline. I also set Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline? to on. Sometimes your friends can have a brain-fart and post something you don’t want others to know about or see. Everyone’s sense of humour and morality is different.

I also set Who can see things on my timeline? to Friends except Acquaintances and use the same setting for Who can see what others post on your timeline?.

In line with the above settings, I don’t want people posting pictures of me or tagging me in things unless I approve of it so I turn on Review tags people add to your own posts before the tags appear on Facebook? and use a custom setting of Friends except Acquaintances for When you’re tagged in a post, who do you want to add to the audience if they aren’t already in it?.

Lastly, only Friends get prompted to tag me in pictures.

With these settings, I generally have no issues with privacy on Facebook. To stay informed, check out the facerooks page and also have a look here  for information on the privacy settings in Facebook.

The information provided above are the settings I personally use. You should play around with the security settings to see what works for you and make sure you keep yourself informed. By informed, I mean get your information from a reputable source.

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Worth the wait?

The big question on my mind is will the next iphone be worth the wait?

To Apple fanboys, the answer is a no brainer. Of course it will! To people like me, techs who migrated to the Apple platform after years of disillusionment with M$, find the answer a little less obvious.

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Quality Service = Communication + Resolution

When you think of good customer service, what is it about the experience that you remember the most? What makes an experience positive? Over the years, I’ve managed a number of service departments and the one thing that we’ve consistently got right is the experience. I can’t say the same for many of the companies I deal with on a daily basis. So where are they going wrong?

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Is your’s a social business?

Please read the caveat applicable to all our posts.

Social media is everywhere these days. It’s unavoidable in many parts of our lives but is it right (or even necessary) for your business to be engaging with prospects, customers and staff using these new tools? It’s a tough question and there may not be a definitive answer but I’ll give it a try.

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