Will Windows 8 Be Relevant in 2012?

Well, the simple answer is YES. And NO.

I suppose that bears a little explanation. The fact is, for business PC users, Windows 8 on the PC won't likely become something you will be looking at for several years. There are not a slew of powerful features coming to drive upgrades. I'd expect that upgrades to Windows 8 will come more when PC hardware has moved deeper into the transition to touch screen usage, and the integration of functionality between tablet usage and PC usage is a more common issue.

But that is not a 2012 issue, so your budget is safe.

What about tablet users? While the iPad has a stranglehold on the market, and Amazon is pushing hard, Microsoft is late to the game. However, a common complaint I, and many other tablet users have is that we don't have our applications. We have 3rd party apps that do similar things, but are not fully compatible, behave different, etc. Frankly, I want Microsoft Office. That's my productivity suite. I also want my other common PC apps to run on a tablet. The PC is the center of my computing universe, and it sets the bar for what things I want to be able to do. I want my tablet to behave consistently with that. That is where Windows 8 comes in. The idea of having a tablet, with all the conveniences of a tablet, that allows me to easily do all the same things I do on my PC, in the same way, is a powerful one. That is the experience I want. I think in this way, Windows 8 on tablets may be a slow start, but it will be a contender if the hardware is solid. There are many business users who could care less about Angry Birds that would love to have the experience of having the full power of their laptop at their fingertips with the convenience of a tablet. I feel that tablets are indeed a productivity boon for the small to medium enterprise (and beyond) and Windows 8 will perhaps take this up a notch. I'll be watching this carefully, and likely test a device or two this year.

Home users also will experience Windows 8 in spades, as it will roll out by the millions. The new all in one touch screen PC's are really optimized for the Windows 8 experience. Again, as hardware shifts in this direction in the enterprise (give it a few years at least), Windows 8 will find a home.

About the time Windows 9 comes along.

Ah, the one constant in technology is change!

Happy Computing!

-Richard Brunke

One of my pet peeves is not having enough screen real estate to do my job. While it is common to buy new computers every 3 years, or less in some cases, it is also common to see those new PC's connected to old monitors, often 5 years old or older, and almost always small.

This is a problem, and really a big mistake. First of all, the entire computing experience is through the monitor. The less space you have on that screen, the more you have to jump back and forth between applications. All day long. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?

Frankly, you should think about your monitor like your desk. It would be hard to be efficient and effective on a 2′ desk, now wouldn't it? All of your important stuff could not even sit on the desk at the same time, and reading any papers would take the whole space. I can't imaging anyone with a 2′ desk. Well, that is what you have if you have a single 19″ or smaller monitor.

For the average PC user, you are using several applications at once throughout the day. Email is always open, Excel is open, Word is open, and perhaps even some line of business application is open. We work on these periodically while always jumping back to email. A large monitor, or FAR better, two large monitors, would allow you to work on these applications without jumping back and forth. It saves productivity and frustration. It also simply speeds up the completion of many tasks.

In my case, two large screens allow me to have spreadsheets displayed in a way so I am not scrolling all the time to see everything I need to see at once and keep email live on the screen. It seems like such a simple thing: Don't put those new PC's on ancient monitors! Really, anything under 21″ is absolutely in need of an upgrade! You productivity will increase, and morale will increase. Everyone loves getting a new monitor!

The best news is that monitors are not that expensive! Here are a few great choices –

The Viewsonic VX2450wm – LED which is a 24″ screen for $180
The Dell S2230MX which is a 22″ screen for $170
The HP 2311x which is a 23″ screen for $160

Personally, I'd go with the 23″ minimum or the 24″ for another twenty bucks if you can swing it. You will be amazed by the increased functionality you will have with that expensive PC! Next time you set your IT budget, seriously look at your monitor inventory and start upgrading to newer larger screens, and where possible to two per user (for those who will benefit). It will be a smart investment in your employees productivity.

Happy (and productive) computing!

-Richard Brunke

iPhones and Adroids and Windows, Oh My!

I was reading an article on CIO.com today about Apple in the Enterprise: Breaking Microsoft's Grip and found that while it was interesting, it sort of really missed the point. One would assume from the headline that Apple is driving into the enterprise and pushing out Microsoft at the level of core apps or operating systems. Well, not exactlyÂ…

The article is misleading in that the reality is that Apple (and Android) are actually EXPANDING the overall technology spend and enhancing productivity through new products that were poorly penetrated or did not exist. They are talking about iPads and iPhones (and I will include Android phones and pads into that) which are seeing hugely increased penetration into the enterprise. Well, tablets are new to the market, and are NOT replacing primary computing sources, but are creating incremental spend for incremental productivity. Smart phones are much the same, though clearly they are pounding away at the Blackberry market share.

Now one could certainly see these products as beachheads into the enterprise and assume that Apple will expand outward and start pushing out core computing assets that are traditionally Microsoft based from an OS and application standpointÂ… but I don't know that this can be assumed. I believe that new devices are adding value to enterprise users creating new spend and frankly, simply enhancing the overall productivity of the enterprise user, not devaluing the core Microsoft application in any way, in fact, I find email even more valuable when I can access it in many ways, and accessing it on my phone and iPad do not threaten the lock Microsoft Exchange has on email in any way as I see it. In fact, we all seek apps for our devices that best emulate Outlook, so our email can behave the way we expectÂ… the way Microsoft has trained us that email should look and behave.

It is a fundamental truth that IT environments are becoming mixed, and more complex. The other side of that coin is that IT environments are becoming more user oriented, more focused on providing multiple methods of access via multiple devices for our email, files, and applications. This trend will only escalate, and I'd not worry too much about MicrosoftÂ… I think they will be just fine, and if they recognize that THEY have developed the user experience we all expect and benchmark by (like Microsoft or hate them, their enterprise apps are the de facto standard) then they should be able to continue to own the critical back end systems and PC user experience, especially if they embrace the reality of the multiple different ecosystems (some that are competitive) that in fact benefit from and perhaps even rely on their products, and feed off of their user base.I think that we will see more integration in years to come, not less, and more diversity of technologies all sharing the same base of applications and data. I don't think that the cloud will be the primary source for most of this, but our good old servers running our core applications will, all accessed in a tightly integrated fashion by Apple, and Android devices.When you put it all together, you definitely have more ways to experience.

Happy Computing
 -Richard Brunke

Thankful for IT Support?

With Thanksgiving just a day away, I was pondering the many things I am thankful for, much like everyone does this time of year. Strangely, IT support never makes the top of my list. I knowÂ… I knowÂ… it seems impossible that the COO of and IT services business would say that. But, in reality, as an IT service provider, our job is to be behind the scenes, and to not draw attention, to be honest. I often liken our service to an electrical outlet on the wall. We don't think to say 'thank you power company' every time we successfully plug an item in and find out we get power. It is supposed to work, and when it does we don't think twice.

But, when it does not workÂ… then we notice, and not in a good way.

So, I understand our role in the lives of our customers. IT is obviously a critical enabler of business, but it needs to just work. IT providers need to provide their service in a way that shows an understanding of the realities of your business. We are here to serve your needs, and to wrap ourselves around them, not the opposite. There should be no mystery in IT, no black box into which you are not allowed to peer for fear of your discovering what you are really paying for. It is a service, and a service that requires specific and deep expertise, and a service that must be done in a way that is focused on you and your business. We really mean it when we talk about HAPPY, PRODUCTIVE and SUPPORTED as the primary goals of our business as it relates to our clients.

Anyhow, not a big marketing message today. To get to the gist of this blog entry, at ISOutsource, we are thankful to our clients for the opportunity to serve them. We feel like partners in every business we support, and genuinely are motivated to help ensure your business is successful and your users are productive and feel supported. There is no greater calling than providing valuable services, and we are proud to provide those services, and we thank every one of our customers that has shown us their trust and enabled the growth of our business over the years. Being the biggest is an outcome, not a goal. We have endeavored to be the best, and by focusing on that goal, we have become the biggest. We fully intend to keep our focus on being the best, and ensuring that, like with that outlet, when you plug something in, it simply works without a lot of thought about it.

Thank you for letting us help you practice Happy Computing.
 -Richard Brunke

One of the most common questions we get around IT coverage for smaller businesses is 'what will it cost?' Signing up for IT is a bit like dropping the car off at a repair shop – scary. It feels scary because you don't know what things should cost, and the costs are often a bit of a mysteryÂ… you are not allowed to see inside of what makes up the expense, and, like leaving that car for repairs, it can be tough to know if you really need the work done and what it should cost.

The good news is that excellent value and service can be achieved at very reasonable prices using IT outsourcing. The important part of understanding and assessing the value of any given IT offering is in knowing what you are getting.

First of all, you should expect a relationship with your IT service provider. Much like your personal doctor relies on his long term knowledge of you to help diagnose what you need and what is happening with your body, a dedicated IT resource will use long term knowledge of your systems, investments, users and business plans to make good decisions on your behalf. Having a primary or 'named' consultant (as well as backup for when they are not available) will save you money and time. Think about it: Who will most rapidly and accurately correct an issue with your systems – someone who works with you and them on a consistent basis, or someone who was simply selected from a pool of available people? In general, the correct answer is the former, not the latter. The concept of a primary and secondary consultant is a fundamental building block of our offering, and part of how we ensure we are up to speed and able to correctly assess and remediate issues on site. It saves you money. It keeps you productive.

Secondly, you must understand that IT is not only a reactive service (coming along when things are broken) but is more intelligently designed as a proactive service coupled with the ability to react quickly at need. Automated tools are nice, and are part of our offerings, but can't replace having a skilled IT professional coming onsite on a pre-scheduled basis to assess your systems, your user needs, and your business requirements. Fixing things quickly when broken is nice, but let's face it, the goal is to avoid that downtime all together if possible. We handle that through our scheduled onsite time, where our consultant completes a routine checklist of required items that need to be managed in a proactive manner. The size and complexity of your business will determine the required frequency of visits (every other month, monthly, weekly, etc). We believe that these onsite visits are the most important aspect of your IT investment when it comes to field based IT offerings.

To give an example of a basic company and what you may expect to spend (just a typical small business example), let's use a hypothetical company of 25 employees and a Small Business Server, you would pay for monitoring and a server check for that server, a once per month 4 hour on site, plus expected user support and reactive maintenance time (things happen, like automatic patches not working correctly, power outages, or simply users wanting support on an application) of another 4-8 hours. That would give you a very comprehensive IT service to maintain up time and maximize productivity very much comparable to having a dedicated in house IT staff. The cost of doing that in house is a full or part time employee. A full time employee fully loaded is going to cost upwards of $80,000, and a part timer, if you can find one, would be in the $30,000 to $40,000 range.

Our service for this would run between $1,300 to $1,900 per month, and with a monthly minimum of just $720 for the proactive service and monitoring. Why don't we simply lock it all together and fix the price? We can, and have a remote based offering that does that, but frankly, for most of our clients, we want you to pay for what you need, and some months you will only spend the minimum for the proactive service, so why pay the higher rate every month, instead of paying for what you need and having 100% visibility over your spend and the ability to prioritize your spend for reactive or extra services? The range for this service on average is going to be from around $16,000 to around $20,000. Not only is this a savings over hiring internally, but frankly, you get a breadth of knowledge that can only come from a base of over 40 qualified IT professionals all working together to solve issues for you efficiently. No management headaches, the ability to flex up or down as needed, etc.

That 25 person company most likely is spending in the range of $1.5 million in total payroll outside of IT. Providing full support of that expenditure with a $20,000 IT maintenance and support expenditure means that you are spending about 1.3% of your payroll on IT in this fairly normal scenario.

So, is that too much to spend? What do you spend on legal each year? How about HR? What about coffee and snacks? The fact is, IT is not free, and not maybe not cheap, but it is valuable, not certainly not unreasonable relative to the value and importance to your business.

Our goal is to offer IT services that provide value and support our mission of ensuring you are happy, productive and supported by your IT vendor. Most businesses today are completely reliant on their IT infrastructure to process business in any real way. Entrusting that to a break fix mentality, cheap hardware, or hoping for good luck makes about as much sense as never putting oil in your car or providing basic maintenance and hoping it never catches up with you.

Our goal is to provide honest and open assessments of your needs and the costs. Giving you a fixed price with 4 pages of excluded items in small print is not our way of doing business. We are happy to provide you pricing to meet your budgetary requirements, using time and materials, or fixed pricing for smaller businesses with simple infrastructure, but we won't try to hide how the price is set, nor close a deal with lots of hidden costs.

Nor do we believe in contracts. The best (and only way for us) to maintain clients is through excellent service, not a piece of paper saying we are married for a year or two.

So make sure to ask hard questions. Be clear what you are signing up for and what you will get (and not get) and ultimately never sign up with an IT vendor that leaves you feeling unsure about costs or service levels. There is variability in IT work based on the simple fact that 'things happen' with technology. If you want a fixed price contract, make sure it does not simply exclude those items (many of them do), as that is not really reflecting what your costs will be, but really just setting a minimum, but doing it in a way that may make you feel more protected than you are.

Do your homework. Better yet, do your homework and then call us and let us show you how we handle things. I think you'll like our approach. We take a lot of pride in our open business model, and take our role as IT advisor and service provider very seriously.

Happy Computing!
 -Richard Brunke

Is the Cloud Open for Business?

Last week saw both Google and Microsoft suffer outages on their cloud services that impacted millions of users.

Google was down for only an hour, but during this time millions of users of Google Docs could not access their documents.

Microsoft had it worse, with an issue that caused about 3 hours of downtime for their Office 365 users (and Hotmail and other services).

Now, the point of this is not to hammer on these services or get into the technical description of what happened, but to again point out the important point that IF you can not have your documents unavailable at any time, for an hour, or more, then you need to understand that as of now, these services are prone to some downtime, as history has shown, and you need to plan for this, or evaluate your cloud strategy in light of this.

I continue to believe that cloud based service delivery will be part of all of our business (and personal) futures, but not as a replacement for on premise computing, but as an adjunct to it, to enhance productivity and increase access to key data. The idea of putting everything in the cloud sounds cool, but there are simply too many things outside of our control, and let's face it, many of us would have real issues if we could not access a key document when we need it. For some, this could cause serious damage to their ability to function as a business (imagine needing a legal brief before a case and not being able to access it, or not being able to get at a big proposal the morning the final pitch is due).

As always, plan thoroughly and adopt new technologies carefully. One should fully understand the capabilities and risks of any given system before they put their business at its mercy, and cloud document storage and applications are showing that they are still in their infancy in terms of stability.

The pricing can be compelling, as can reduction of onsite hardware costs, but the question is: What is the cost of downtime relative to all of this?

Again, plan thoroughly and move slowly on cloud initiatives. Work with your IT department and ensure you are asking all the right questions.

That way you can ensure you will continue to practice Happy Computing.
 -Richard Brunke

I read an interesting article the other day regarding IT recruiting and retention. The key fact I saw right up front that was in May, the unemployment rate for IT professionals was at 3.8% against the national overall average of 9.1% and the IT labor market was HEATING up from there through the summer. That number includes all levels of IT experience including college grads. It went on to talk about the real key skills required for IT current IT projects and initiatives are typically held by employees with 5-10 years experience, who are, therefore, even more in demand.

And the net/net of all of this is a talent war in the IT hiring space.

And making it all worse, employees are seeking to move to places where they can see more new technology and take part in more exciting projects, driving turnover, and driving wage rates up. For the average corporate IT group, this is a real challenge.

I don't like to advertise too much on the blog, but we are seeing the same thing, but we have an advantage. Our employees get to see that broad range of technology, doing new things on a nearly daily basis across a broad range of clients. When your core business IS IT, you have an edge in recruiting over the corporate IT space where IT is an expense center, and where specialization is the norm. These types of market behaviors only make local outsourcing more valuable. Why chase increasing labor costs when you don't even know if the skill set you are hiring is the one you will need in a years time? Why deal with the turn over and management headaches?

The fact is, for the majority of small to mid sized businesses, outsourcing is not only sensible, but likely the only way you will find and retain the level of talent you desire. The best and brightest (which is what you want around when your server is down, or you are deploying a new solution) are not going to stay motivated and excited in a limited environment. Although YOU may find them valuable enough to pay the high salary to have them around when you need them, they are going to be increasingly driven to find ways to increase their skills and be challenged, and a single small business environment may not provide that challenge.

The more volatile the labor market, the more changing the technology space, the more valuable having a flexible approach to obtaining and retaining IT talent is.

After all, it is all about maintaining consistent quality and service to ensure you can experience Happy Computing.
 -Richard Brunke

CIO.com had an interesting article today regarding how IT is viewed in the corporate environment by the CFO, whom IT typically falls under. Not surprisingly (to me), the picture is not too rosyÂ…

Here is a direct quote from the article:
"According to the 2011 Gartner/FEI study, only about a quarter of the CFOs had confidence that their own IT organization "has the organizational and technical flexibility to respond to changing business priorities," or "is able to deliver against the enterprise/business unit strategy."

"Only 25% see the CIO as a key player in determining the business strategy," said Gartner analyst John Van Decker.

In addition, less than a quarter of the CFOs felt the IT department "delivers the technology innovation needed by the business," or that it "has the right mix of skilled people to meet business needs." And in the final act of disdain, only 18% of the CFOs said they thought "our IT service levels meet or exceed business expectations."

Now, let's take this down a notch into the world of small business. Business owners and decision makers often don't trust IT, and the above quote would summarize what I have heard time and again from smaller businesses too. The problem is that internal IT groups tend to fall into certain traps over and over again.

The first trap is the technology trap. IT leaders come up through IT departments. They LOVE technology. Unfortunately, they often forget that IT is NOT ABOUT TECHNOLOGY any more than home building is about hammers. IT is about meeting business needs with a technology tool set. The tools are NOT front and center, the business opportunity is. Here is a hint – as a business person, I don't care about the spec. I don't care about how cool it is. I don't care about how many virtual machines it can run. Sorry. I don't. What I do care about is how any particular solution can be directly tied to ensuring that my business remains productive. That my technology supports my business plans. That my IT investment is relevant to supporting my business needs. I want happy, productive and supported employees. I want a business that runs smoothly.

The second trap is empire building. How many times have I heard 'I need to hire another staff member because we don't have such and such key skills in house'? Frankly, I don't want to chase every changing skill requirements with full time employees. Nor do I revel in the knowledge that my IT staff is 150% utilized 3 times per year, but 30% utilized the rest. Most businesses would NEVER hire an in house lawyer for contracts, and another for HR law, and another for intellectual property law. That would be insane, right? While we know we may need each of those skills, and need them badly at some point, we don't hire them to sit around until we need them, we find a firm with the breadth of experience we need and have them on retainer. Pay for what you need when you need it. So, why do we think differently about IT?

It is not a hopeless battle, however. In reality, CIOs (or any IT manager) simply need to step back and remember that they are business support, not technology support. They need to understand that the fundamental job of IT is to provide the most efficient solution to business problems available. Not the coolest. Not the most cutting edge. The most efficient. Value can only be determined in IT by understanding the needs of the business and aligning the cost of the solution and the nature of the solution with the overall culture and direction of the business. Get better at that. Put the focus on that. Talk in terms of the outcomes of projects, not the technology involved in them. Talk in terms of return on investment, and be honest about it. Remember that IT is a service organization, and that no one outside of IT likely cares deeply about the technology. I know, it hurts. They care about the outcomes though, and if you focus on that, you will build value, and you will build trust.

Lacking trust between IT and business decision makers is a terrible thing for everyone. I certainly keep this front and center when working with my team and setting a corporate culture. We talk endlessly about our mission of creating happy, productive and supported customers. It was strange at first, to run an IT services company and NOT talk about technology, not talk about us and our capabilities, but to talk about the ultimate desired outcomes our customers have in simple terms. It is transformational in fact. Because, we understand that at the end of the day, the one thing we can agree on is that we all want to experienceÂ…

Happy Computing!
 -Richard Brunke

Lots of news today on Microsoft Office 365, their new cloud offering, which released today. For those of you tracking this, this was previously known by the awkward name of BPOS (Business Productivity Online Software). Basically, it is Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications Online and Live Meeting (the last two used to be called Lync and combines instant messaging and web conferencing) and the Office suite.

Clearly this offering is set to go head to head with Google Apps. The Microsoft offering is more expensive, but there are some BIG advantages. Chief among those is the fact that most of us are familiar with them. We know how to navigate and use Microsoft Applications. Can you learn a new interface? Sure you can, but at the end of the day, all pro this and anti that aside, I use my computer to be productive, and I'll pay a bit more to be productive. I know how to use Microsoft software, so I prefer it, and am productive using it. If I save $100 a hour, but waste hours in productivity because I have questions, or don't know how to do something, or can't get support as easily, I'm not making a good decision.

Aside from this there is another real advantage – the Microsoft suite, unlike Google, does not need an online connection to work. The applications have offline modes and will sync when you are back online. In the real world, that is sort of a big deal.

All of this aside, the real question you should ask yourself is – do I need this? Is this compelling? The answer is 'it depends'. There are scenarios for small business, or some types of large enterprise, where this may make tremendous sense. There are also questions around data storage and its configuration that MUST be considered before you implement. There are still lagging legal questions around data protection and ownership in the cloud, concerns on uptime (remember the Amazon issue???) as well as the simple inability to have cloud apps cleanly integrate to non cloud apps (need that Line of Business application to talk to exchange?).

I've been saying it for two yearsÂ… cloud computing is coming, but it will not be the panacea promised, nor is it really going to be about cost savings in my opinion. It is about fit. It is about productivity and business needs and capital usage. It is a complex question that deserves some discussion. Talk to your IT manager, or contact us and talk to a consultant. Whatever you do, look before you leap.

Be it in the cloud or on your PC, always practice Happy Computing!
 -Richard Brunke

We serve a lot of architects at ISOutsource. One thing that always amazes me is the desktops that they have to buy to be able to create and render their drawings on. Those things are like top of the line gaming machines, and they cost a fortune (as much as 4 to 5 times what you may be able to buy a mid level desktop for).

One of my consultants recently implemented VMware View for a few clients and WOW did we ever get a great response. I normally don’t like to advertise for any particular solution, but this solution is a new twist on the old thin client concept, enabling businesses to use older, or less expensive machines coupled with cloud based infrastructure to complete heavy lifting computing tasks, and to do so QUICKER than they were on their top of the line machines!

What really struck me about this was the simple concept of how having the right IT partner advising you can be critical. This solution will enable many of our clients to save thousands of dollars per desktop and improve productivity. That is simply huge. The ROI on the consultation and the roll out is HUGE. It is the ability to have a large team with many pockets of knowledge that helps us make sure we see this stuff coming, and make it available to our clients. In fact, we are having a seminar on this internally in the next week so that the information can be available to every one of our consultants who is interested. That is what we mean on our site when we talk about smart, fast and vast. Smart people, fast response, and vast knowledge.

I’m not even going to attempt to describe the solution here. Take a look at the VMware site and look over this, or better yet, contact us and ask us to come talk to you about this solution (or any other solution of course) and how it may help you save money and improve productivity.

Cheaper and faster computing = happy computing!
-Richard Brunke