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Better productivity – don’t use wireless

I don’t hate wireless.  In the same way in that I don’t hate the cloud.  Or giving “users” administrative rights.  Or not training staff on how to use IT equipment or software.

Wireless is a great technology that can have several really productive uses, but I find putting your absolute faith in a technology sets you up for a larger risk of failure.

I’ve just spent a couple of days using a computer with a wireless keyboard and mouse.  When I started I used new, working, batteries.  The keyboard has been rubbish.

I checked the batteries, they’re good.  Checked the contacts, good connectivity. The keyboard is approximately six inches from the transmitter.  Changed batteries, changed USB slots, dis/reconnected.  Even turned it off and on again.

The problem is that the keyboard just drops out when typing. And if I don’t use for a bit it it’s slow to pick up when I start typing again.

I just moved house, and had to quit with the wireless keyboard and go box-diving to find a keyboard with a “tail”. And now I’m back at full pace.

The problem is the keyboard just isn’t that good, it was a cheap set I got to use with a media PC, it was never great, but it was only used occasionally.  At least the mouse works!

And there’s the productivity issue – yes, it looks neat, no cables littering the desk but the downside is if the thing locks up, is slow to respond, and causes gaps in work well that’s not good.

Multiply that by the number of people who have problems and it’s starting to hurt.

I have a similar issue with wireless networks, if you’re working with large files or lots of online content then using a network cable will just improve the situation so much it’s worth the hassle of the cables.

There’s no disputing the whole reliability and speed of wireless has improved but not to the point where it can be as trustworthy as a good old cable.

We seek productivity in business don’t we?  But do you value neatness or appearance over it? Certainly experience has taught me that staff members that have tech issues that don’t get sorted in short order tend to lean on those issues which in turn means a productivity hit.

I don’t know about you but I like to keep things simple.

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A high level of IT literacy

Ben Lobel writes in his piece on the IT skills shortage that private sector employers struggle to hire due to a shortage of skills in the marketplace.

His article speaks about jobs in the Industry but the tech skills shortage is an issue across the board.

Everyone these days has that line (or similar) on their CV/application; “highly IT literate” – but are they?

During the course of my work I see many different people operating IT equipment and many different levels of skills.  Not all as perhaps advertised.

All of us who drive earn our driving licence but that does not automatically make us all good drivers.

In fact the inverse is true.  Just because you have a licence.

The same is very much true of IT equipment.  A little knowledge is dangerous indeed.

Ben’s article goes on to suggest that employers need to do more than just offer a salary, and it’s true, they really do;

Corporate culture, a cool place to work, perks, and training are some of the more popular things that can attract the right people.

In my own research the concept of training comes up time and time again.

Some people are scared of technology, some don’t want to learn it, some simply think they know better.

In nearly all of the cases I’ve been invited to (and some I haven’t – shhhh) the best way to improve these situations has been just to give individuals a little 1 to 1 time focusing on the main issues.

It can often be remarkable a transformation.

The most recent successes has been around the change to Windows 10.

For various reasons I’ve recommended clients remain using Windows 7 until such time Windows 10 had evolved to a point it was useable.

That meant there were many staff members with a lot of “upgrade anxiety” and often half an hour exploring the new software with a few transitional tricks thrown in was enough to smooth over the change.

Isn’t that so much better than just throwing a new computer on a desk and hoping everyone’s IT literacy skills get them through the transition?

Businesses seem be resistant to providing training.  But in many cases just giving a little attention and a few real world “tricks” is enough to give the confidence to crack on and dig in.

No great big training spend or complex days off/seminars, a little attention goes a long way.

(And, of course, Technology Simplified clients can provide their staff with some one to one technology confidence sessions to ease the technology pain!)

Ben’s post – http://smallbusiness.co.uk/it-skills-shortage-continues-to-impede-businesses-2502901/

 

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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.

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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.