Popup blockers – evil tool of anti-establishmentarianism types or simply better browsing?

I’ve been accused of several things over the years, nothing too serious I think, but enough random oddness to make me chuckle.

One thing I was recently accused of was being disrespectful to companies that have paid for adverts on websites.

Because I use a popup blocker.

I disagree.

I would not buy anything just by seeing it advertised on a website.  I’m a geek.  I research. I ponder. I spend literally hours checking and double checking if, what I’ve decided to buy, is what I really need.

Sometimes I have to actually stop myself taking too long over things.

Fortunately it’s more of an issue for personal purchases, I can reign it in in a business situation a lot more.  And that’s not to say I rush things, but I can condense the process.

Now I accept that companies have paid for adverts in most cases.  And I also accept that by blocking them I am reducing their effectiveness.

But consider it from my perspective.

My duty is partly to make things run smoothly. To try to help staff work easier, better and with less stuff that puts them off.

I’ve attached two screen grabs to this – one is looking at a website with no blockers, and the other is with an ad blocker running.

The difference is obvious.  And since many of the ads include animation or video content it’s equally as awful to load and browse as it is to look at!

My instincts as a technology guy are interfering with my need to be marketed to.

I occasionally get asked about social media access in the office.  Want to know what I usually say?

You sure?  You probably won’t like it.  (It’ll become a blog post at some point no doubt!)

Block it!  Or restrict access to it outside of core hours.

Unless you’re a company that needs to have its staff accessing stuff like that it’s entirely within your remit to prevent access.  Just as we’d prevent access to other types of content.

If you’ve never known a filtered internet connection before you should ask a teacher what their systems are like!

So ads.  Yes.  I accept the fact it’s often paid for.  But looking at those screengrabs you can see how some sites are littered with them.  And those ads are a drain on resources as well as internet bandwidth, far more than you might think.

I have to use multiple browsers as part of my daily work, this is so I can remain logged in to certain accounts, my time would be impacted so much if I had to log out, log in as someone else, log out, someone else, all day long I think I’d go mad!

So trust me when I tell you that using the wrong browser on the wrong website can literally bring even a brand new PC to a standstill.

And so we must block.

A recommendation?  Sure.  Try uBlock Origin.

It’s a fab little product and it’s totally free.  Even the basic install starts to be effective straight away, no configuration needed.

It’s a true killer app.

But now it’s even starting to protect from malicious code. And that just makes it even better.

So I’m sorry if you feel I disrespect companies by blocking their adverts.  But it’d probably be enough to put me off a supplier based upon how hard they market me.

Do you ever look up companies online?  See any reviews?  Does that put you off?

It’s the little things that stick in our brains that influence our choices.  And since we all have the freedom to choose then that’s up to all of us how we operate.

I’ll keep operating with fewer ads.

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More bad reviews or just faulty tech?

We will get to some technology blog posts at some point I promise!

I wanted to talk, again, about Google reviews, partly because they’re pertinent but also because it’s currently something I’m deep down the rabbit hole of since I’m rebranding the company.

I’d quite like some touchscreen phones in the office. Why? What amazing business improving reason do I want them for?

They might look quite nice on new desks!

Now that’s the honest answer, but there is a method in the madness. A properly organise touch screen phone can be a really useful thing, imagine how the majority of mobile phones work these days – also with a properly setup CLID phone book the bright colour screen gives benefits.

I like the Ubiquiti UniFi UVP Touchscreen phones, a bit pricey but they will give the functionality I’d like and they do match my brief of looking good in the office.

Here’s the rub. Check out the Google reviews;

Link to reviews

TLDR: An average of 3.2 out of 5 stars.

On first glance not good is it?

Going back to my previous blog on this subject this is one of those considered purchases I was talking about, unlike comparing takeaways, this is a more expensive purchase and something that needs a little more thought and research.

This one of the things that makes a technology upgrade live or die. If it’s fit for purpose;

I want something that looks good, but I also have reasons beyond aesthetics to why I want a large colour screen phone. So this handset seems to be a perfect fit.

But for that rubbish review.

That rubbish review drops the average score too, it’s painfully destructive.

Until you read it.

“Unusable as a phone” Sounds like there’s a serious problem with the touch screen. And as a rule that’s a hardware issue which really ought to be covered by warranty.

Until you dig a little further;

There are numerous threads on the Ubiquiti Networks forums about calibration issues, and on a device that is almost unusable without it’s touchscreen that’s a problem. But it seems there are buttons on the device that allow you to run certain processes, but it’s not a simple user task.

In one really unfortunate post it’s mentioned that over 90% of these handsets have had this problem causing the poster to lose their job!

Without being 100% certain it does seem as if the company are offering to swap out units, even in some cases when out of warranty, to get them working again.

An expensive strategy. But potentially this is proof there is, or has been, a defect in these units.

They’re still being advertised on the companies website, and due to consumer protections laws we can sometimes eke out longer warranties if necessary but it’s not ideal.

You look on their site and they talk about a disruptive cost for the features. I’d argue there is a risk of a greater disruption if you wind up having to swap several phones out due to this problem.

I’d still buy them, but I wouldn’t recommend them to clients, and that is the very definition of buyer (or reseller) beware in my mind.

Will keep you posted on the handsets, if I feel brave enough!

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I got a bad Google review!

Do you read and listen to bad Google reviews?

I did, last night as it goes.  My Wednesdays are busy days at the best of times – I pick up my daughter from one thing, take her to another, wait an hour, then take her somewhere else.  Dad Taxi services!

The schedule has changed recently and if tied with a day of work it means I don’t really stand a chance to get a hot meal until after 8pm, which is way too late for me.

So I checked a couple of takeaways out online.  And I wound up going to the one that had the better average review on Google.  Way too easy.  I did, however, notice one review complained that the staff were rude and didn’t speak.  Not at all my experience, but I did tell them that someone had written that on Google and laughed with them about it.  (It may have got me a free drink too!)

Earlier I’m noodling about online, looking at Cornish businesses, competitors, potential prospects, just having a general update browse as you do and I came upon a Google review page for a firm that I knew had a great reputation but a low average score.

They, like me, had a bad review.

My review went like this;

“ “

In that it was completely devoid of words.

I did, of course, respond to it in a light hearted way, complaining that I only managed to get the same score as the local B&M, but also pointing out that I’d never met, nor done any business with, the reviewer.

But does it damage my company only having a 3 star Google review?

Well with me it did to the takeaway I didn’t go to.

Back to this other local firm.  They had a pretty rough review that only gave them 1 star!

The review was unlike mine, in that it actually contained words, and was well written but it very much gave only a single side to the story.

I actually got a bit of the other side too.  And I don’t think the rating is warranted on balance. We have a case of a company that tried to provide a service at an initial low price but then having to adjust that price because the work was underestimated.

I think we’ve all done that before.  I know I have, and probably still do!

Other issues mentioned point to a possible hiccup or two, and maybe an indication that communication might not have been as perfect as it could have been.

But can’t we all agree, even with the best approach, we can all let communication slip – it’s an incredible feat to be utterly on top of and perfect with your communication at all times, so again, not really an insurmountable issue.

My thoughts on communication are that if you don’t do it and become unhappy with how things are  being done for you then you should say something.  It’s only making things worse if you can’t be confident and communicate that you’re not completely happy about communication!

All in all what, on the surface, looks like a poor write up isn’t, in my humble opinion, necessarily a bad thing, there’s enough there to show up what problems there were and that’s just fine, we’re not all going to have perfect solutions every time, and what’s right for one might not be so for others.

Having said that, there is potential for damage to the casual browser, just as I did it, I chose one takeaway over another because of their average star rating, but I wouldn’t do the same with a business service provider I wanted a relationship with.  I’d do my due diligence in more detail.

Because I’m thorough like that.

But not everyone is.

So can I offer a solution?

Well, I am just a technology projects guy and not a digital marketeer.  But I’ve dealt with people and their reactions and expectations enough to know that they all have a brain.

The best suggestion I can make is to formulate a sensible response, giving facts and trust people to read and take it all in, and make a balanced decision.

Oh and the food was awesome by the way!

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Using Technology to Increase Business Productivity

You’ll see a lot of articles with this title around and about.  But there’s one thing that a large proportion of them completely miss. The single most important asset to your business productivity.

Your people.

These articles will tell you that a CRM software solution will transform your communication. They will also tell you that virtual teams/working brings people closer together. That online performance evaluations can streamline staff development, motivate and review performance.

What few of them tell you is how to properly manage the change.

You see we humans are fickle animals – we struggle to accept change in general. And the fight or flight response can trigger a negative reaction if we’re not completely onboard.

This is something that technology firms roundly overlook. And it’s hard to hold that against them really.  They do their specialist role – a lot of the work is very complex but has little relation to how the office receptionist will feel, or the guys in the drawing office and so on.

Any technology project that requires “users” to operate the final product will be worse off for not involving them.

Why?

Any time a technology “improvement” is delivered to people who were not expecting it it’s easy to see their unhappy.  That unhappiness generally stems from the lack of involvement in the process.

We can’t very well expect every single member of staff to be involved in every single technology purchasing decision. But the ones that result in a large proportion needing that technology for a business improvement project?

Ignore them at your peril.

Any technology project I’ve worked on previously has been greatly enhanced by involving staff at an early stage.  Even if you have a top notch supplier providing the solution they can get on better by being more accepted, even if it’s just getting a cuppa whilst on site.

But more than that, it’s your staff that are there before, during and after the project. And it’s your staff who will live with the output of that project.  Anything you can do to improve the experience for them will make all the difference.

We often see phones systems using about 10% of their functionality because staff don’t know how to use them.  People angry with computers and peripherals because they’ve just been given them or, worse, turned up to find new stuff on their desk.

By thinking a little bit about how to involve them and make them feel like part of the process it helps to break down the walls of acceptance.

The best bit is you don’t even have to do it!  Just make sure your solutions provider includes it as part of their work.

 

We ALWAYS consider a clients staff in all project work and strongly recommend their involvement even on a very simple basis as this is the perfect way to accentuate the success of any technology productivity project.

23 THOUSAND emails in your Inbox?

We are becoming more and more reliant on our digital systems. Unfortunately most of these systems are dumb by design. Take the topic of this blog. Email management. How well do you do it?

For many years email management provided by client software has been limited at best.  And whilst it has improved over time the automation will generally just mean a chunk of mail moves into a separate file (note: file, not folder).

I’m not writing this blog to poke fun at those people that only use their inbox and within have all of their many thousands of emails stacked up. Nor am I internationally being critical of people who have nearly as many sub folders as they do emails.

Each to their own!

My best suggestion passed out over the years is to have a “system” – that would be a personal system.  And what’s more make it one of your own design.

Why a system?  The simple answer is for expediency, speed, efficiency, great organisation, skill.

And why do you have to “design” it?  Buy-in. If you create it you’re going to use it aren’t you?

If someone else comes along and tells you you need to create a folder per client and one for bills in, bills out, and so on……chances are you might only give it a half-hearted try.

So in and of itself having lots of emails in your inbox isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, from a technical point of view, it makes things a bit more complicated.

Physically scrolling takes time.  Yes, you can search, but only if you know who/what you’re searching for.  (Don’t laugh, do you remember the names of ALL of the people you spoke to, over email, in the last few years!?). Some systems limit content by size, time, date, other parameters.

Having a system also can provide confidence, which in turn can relax you, and that can help you in being more organized and generally just a much cooler personal generally!

Of course you want to know if I have a system don’t you?  (What do you mean no?!)

For my own personal email management I’ve adapted a form of “Inbox Zero” which is aimed at keeping your inbox empty or as near to it at all times.

The process in a nutshell;

Use folders/sub folders – organize mail into folders
Remove distraction – close the mail client for periods of the day
Clear down regularly – I try to clear down the inbox at least once a day
Priority processing – process mail via priority usually following a clear down

How it works;

Using priority sub folders; “aFile” “bFile” etc
Clearing down the Inbox means move all mail into priority folders – quick scan and move
Respond to mail in highest priority folder first, move to next priority folder when previous is empty
Use nested folders to easily move chunks of mail; All client mail placed into Client folder, then that folder is sorted in the relevant sub folders
Use a bit of automation to move stuff you might only read if you have time

It’s not a perfect method by any stretch of the imagination, but there are some definite benefits in doing this.  I feel so much better about the whole concept of communication as a result and generally I can find the stuff I need most of the time.

Another point about this is that you must not set it in stone.  If something isn’t working quite right then adjust. When I first started I had far too many top-level folders so I reduced the number and it worked better.

Call it adapting technology to better support you – since that’s what it is, and what ALL technology should do – spend a little time, get it working the way you want it.

Go on your own email management journey, I dare you!

Oh and to answer my own question – I currently have THREE!

Software helplessness

One of the guiding principles of how I work in business is to try to create IT systems that function well enough to the point that the clients staff are able to get on with more important tasks, such as work!

There are many things we can control, most of them with a reasonable level of autonomy that enables us to course correct behind the scenes if needed.

It’s all with a mind to reduce the amount of time staff have to deal with niggling IT problems.

Unfortunately there are always going to be issues that are beyond control, so lets look at two of them;

First of all fancy schmancy cloud-based software – and yes, I’m looking at you Office 365!

Once upon a time we had to install software from disks, now CD, DVD, even USB stick supplied software has gone the same way as the Dinosaur.

And I’m mostly ok with that. I’ve no objection to companies wanting to try to reduce their overheads (it’s cheaper to download software than press CDs, just not as cool!) or even keep a stealthy check on just how many times that copy has been installed.

But what frustrates is when that software does not work properly, and more critically in going wrong it interrupts my clients work!

There is a strange duality to technology fault fixing, time taken to apply work-arounds vs time takes to cut losses and fresh install. We used to calculate this to be about three hours for a commercial Windows install (we were using a custom network install it has to be said) if the job looks to go over go for fresh.

To complete a fresh install you can use a small bit of software that guts a PC of all files relating to Office 365, there is then a small list of stuff that can be manually removed.

But on doing this, rebooting, and reinstalling – maybe an hours work total, the problem simply springs back into life.

Frustrating.

To the other end of the spectrum, and some bespoke management software bits of which simply refuse to work, the supplier is adamant that “hardly anyone has this problem” and “you must have set up the PC wrong”

Picture if you will the software vendor and the technical support as two majestic Stags engaged in an epic headbutting duel for the ages.

Except as part of the process you are able to replicate the same fault on a brand new, out of the box, system – add one to the list of “hardly anyone”

Experience has taught me that there are some epic headbutting duels you’ll simply never win, but you’ll still know where the fault is, and it’s unlikely to be accepted in that way, unless suddenly everything gets the same problem at the same time.

Unfortunately you still have the user, who suffers that irritating popup, or lack of expected functionality and, if you’re a decent type, you’ll not want to waste your clients time (and money!) in hours of to and fro trying chance upon a fix.

So the hardest thing of all, you have to admit you can’t fix the problem – certainly in the case of Office issues have come and gone – and how can that be? Well the software is updating periodically in the background.

2+2=365 in that situation.

Since writing this Chris has experienced additional software helplessness and is currently hiding in a darkened corner sharpening his antlers in anticipation of his next battle.

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Mission Critical – Keeping Going

In previous blog posts we talked of identifying and preparing for failures and now we’re staring one in the face – your internet connection is down and chaos is about to ensue….what next?

Remember we recorded items that would cause a serious problem in the event of failure? Each one needs to be looked at separately to come up with a failure fix and, if possible, a work around.

Depending on how in-depth you really want to get depends greatly on how much panic and confusion will reign if failures occur – I prefer to be calm, collected, covered and above all, Cornish!

So I’ve looked at my router manual, I know what all of the lights mean, I can look at my router during an internet failure and deduce if it’s a hardware fault or elsewhere.

This time it all looks ok – we can even browse to its web interface, log in and see it’s operational.

So, as previously mentioned, we have to look back “up the line” the router is ok, what about the phone line? I have a phone plugged into it too which I can pick up, dial 123 and find out what time it is – all seems well.

Now I refer to my (specifically created for my business) documentation and find out the contact details of my Internet Service Provider before giving them a call.

I am greeted with a recorded message “We are experiencing high volumes of calls due to the current outage – please call back later” and the line goes dead.

And it’s at this point you’ll realise, if not before, why I said that if your internet connection drops out the recovery really is in the lap of the gods. The majority of ISP’s don’t supply their own connections rather resell others, so they have to report the outage themselves and wait.

Next step is to refer to your workaround.

Having a small business means you are a bit more agile by default, if you’re a one-person concern it’s often just a matter of picking up your portable device and heading off to the nearest Pub/Coffee shop/Café/Restaurant/Other place with free wifi and carrying on as before.

You might be lucky and own a mobile phone that allows tethering, a neat way of sharing the data on the phone with other devices, or maybe you have a mobile broadband dongle you can either use on your router or computer.

Whatever the work-around it’s time to apply it. And here’s the benefit of being small and agile, you can usually ride these outages out without too much stress, imagine if you had a dozen members of staff all sat in an office especially those with on-site services & servers that need internet.

Just this week I visited a company who had an outage that affected just two PCs – staff explained without them they simply had no work at all they could do.

This is one compelling reason why it’s really important to get a handle on these serious business-affecting issues, work out how much of a pain they are to you and put in place some plans for what you (and your people) do if they happen – the more severe the more seriously you need to consider investment in a more robust solution being a general rule of thumb.

Next time we’ll take a look at third-party suppliers and how to ensure they give you the best service/response they can possibly.

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Mission critical – Planning for failure

Expect technology to fail, it’s one of its favourite things!

Better that and plan for it than be unprepared. Let’s consider an example of the Internet connectivity of a work from home micro business;

Work in a line, from the bottom to the top, or one end to the other.

First, ignore the Internet connection!

Why?

Internet connections have a service “guarantee” (more on that later) which sets out what you can expect. Beyond that you have little control – if it breaks it’ll be back when it’s back.
(The golden rule here: if it breaks, log the fault and keep pestering till it’s fixed).

Phone line next. It may be with a separate provider and is easy to test if, in the event of a failure, the fault is with line or connection – hint: a corded phone and mobile are handy here,
If you establish the failure is a line fault, report it and wait.

Next in line is our Internet router. As anything outside of the router is almost completely out of our control this is the first item we can properly look to secure.

We can mitigate power failures and protect from surges (we get a lot of “dirty” power here in Cornwall, surges cause damage). Even a modest (cheap) UPS will keep a router running for a good while.

If we have a router failure, we have options; reset to factory, get it fixed or swap it out. Assuming you have a backup of your settings (and if you don’t you really should!) reset/re-apply/replace as needed.

We mentioned severity before. If your internet router properly breaks it’s going to take a MINIMUM of one day to get a replacement (unless you live very near to a store that sells them) so your thoughts must include if can you cope with a day offline?

Portable device owners could work from another location. If you have a mobile broadband device/phone, you can use that instead. But, depending on your setup, your existing Office may be offline until a replacement is in hand, so you might consider keeping a spare.

This is, unfortunately, the high cost of preventing failures. If you max out your preventative measures you will need to at least purchase; a mobile broadband device (or use a mobile phone), UPS and a spare router.

Beyond your router lies your tools, the pen and paper of your business, either computers/laptops and printers/scanners. If you work in the cloud you need internet, if you work with local software you can still do some things without it.

Everything is replaceable in the event of a failure, but you still need to be aware just how you would do that if/when it does so planning is crucial.

A daunting process just for an individual working at home, imagine the permutations for larger firms and the myriad things they might want to consider?!

Next we’ll look at how you can keep going when something breaks.