IT Equipment: Consumer vs. Business Grade

With a vast amount of manufacturers out in the technology landscape, making your next IT equipment purchase can sometimes feel daunting. Even if you have a preferred manufacturer the vast options available can be double digits. For most purchasers the subtle differences between models can quickly be lost until one of them rears its ugly head for a downed or disabled computer.

Companies still offer traditional lines aimed at the consumer and others aimed at a business. Understanding the differences and why companies like Chess offer business lines can be very important to the bottom line. Port options, maintainability, warranty and ease of repair are only some of the minute differences that can separate a consumer model from a business model.

Which warranty would you prefer: 1 year return to depot or 3 year onsite? Two models being equal can typically have a few dollar price difference and this option is one of the main culprits. Be careful about trying to find the absolute lowest price because two years of additional warranty on a business machine can be critical for an office with no IT budget. Consumer grade machines are built with parts and designs to minimize footprint and highlight look and feel but this is often at the expense of key component reliability.

Hex screws or phillip’s screws? Another interesting side effect of the model differences is that by building to minimize weight and maximize look and feel, manufacturers need to forgo maintenance and onsite repair concerns. If you expect your IT department or IT provider to perform hardware repairs of equipment, consumer grade equipment can take longer to repair and require special tools because of the design characteristics of the packaging. You might save 10 dollars on a machine now but if one year or 2 from now the repair takes twice as long, your gamble on total cost of ownership has lost out.

Consider two user stories that track very nicely along the consumer verse business grade topic. I worked with a customer some time ago that was looking to replace their small fleet of computers (around 25 workstations). After discussing options and working with the customer, we narrowed in on a model that would fit perfectly in their environment. However, the customer found they could purchase an “identical model” from the manufacturer directly for ten dollars less per machine. An initial savings of two hundred and fifty dollars. Four of the units were dead on arrival which had to be processed by the customer (and not by us) costing time and money. Several of the units had hardware issues about 14 months in.

The key here is that the units had hardware issues 14 months into a 12 month warranty period. Their ten dollars savings per machine was in part because the warranty difference was 1 year instead of 3. Many of hundreds of dollars later the customer’s units were back operating but any cost savings had long since vanished.

We had a second customer who felt a Sam’s Club purchase was a much better deal (50 dollars or so) than a model we suggested. However, the unit the customer purchased did not have Windows professional edition, ergo no domain joining. Instead of paying 75 dollars to have it upgraded, the customer promptly returned the workstation and purchased a different one…with still the home version of windows. This machine the customer choose to pay the upgrade fee to Windows. Their initial 50 dollar savings probably cost around 600 dollars.

The value of these two stories is in understanding that there are important key differences in equipment models that your IT department or your IT provider may understand and if allowed will help you navigate.

Apple Watch. The Next Best… or Business Time Killer?

Multitasking is just rapid attention switching. And that would be a useful skill, except it takes us a second or two to engage our focus. So the sum total of our attention is actually decreased as we multitask. Slicing your attention, in other words, is less like slicing potatoes, than it is like slicing plums, you always lose some of the juice.

-David Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto

GadgetsExecutives can spend every waking hour and then some trying to find the right way to optimize their time and efficiency. Smart devices and the internet of things promise to bring us closer to real time in our business. Multitasking nirvana giving way to increased productivity.

How often do we think about how effective these devices are in business? Consumers love to spend money on tech and gadgets but when it comes to business sometimes our inclination to buy may not be serving us well. What gadget or gizmo is best? Which thing will make me more productive? How do I get that edge?

I remember when the first iPad came out and people were lined up around the malls to be a first time buyer. Organizational discussions began to flutter around who should get a device and what great things can be done with them. I remember walking into a large client who had purchased 20 iPads (fully stocked) and provided them to the IT team. I noticed many of the devices still in their boxes two weeks in. One of the IT staff told me that not a single IT team member was asked about the purchase, the IT director has just decided this was THE FUTURE! Twenty grand down the drain because the manager had failed to ask a single question (and failed to take ownership of company resources…a whole other problem).

Do these tablets, smart phones, trackers and now smart watches really help our business? Are we more productive? Do we magically become better at our job? Scary to think of the actual ROI on these things.

I would offer that sometimes gadgets can help us keep in touch, that they provide a way to be more asynchronous more often. Especially in a business world where real-time is becoming such an undervalued commodity some of these gadgets make life a little easier. For the most part though it seems like gadgetry is more of a time sink hole. Access to all these devices just ends up causing a scattered attention span…a lack of focus.

Organizations need to be strategic about their use of gadgets in the business environment. As with most IT activities having a plan and understanding the why is going to be paramount. Work with your IT team to understand the resources required to support the new gadget. Set specific expectations on why you need this gadget and why it will help your business.

Ultimately, have all we done is introduce more multitasking and less focus into our already precious time? As many of our clients fidget with glee as Apple looks to announce their great, new, not so innovative Apple Watch, I wonder how much of their and our resources will be spent trying to rationalize the business advantage of this wave of gadgets. How much time will be lost to capturing more time?

Outsourcing Your IT Team: Taking the First Step

Outsourcing Your IT

Ideas that resonate with outsourcing your IT

You have analyzed your financials, reviewed your IT spend, met with multiple outsourcing companies and have just signed your name to the dotted line. A huge weight is lifted as you feel the relief of entrusting your IT infrastructure to a team who can provide all of the right sized resources to your organization. Then a new weight begins; that is entrusting your IT infrastructure to a team that you don’t directly control.  How do you succeed when outsourcing your IT?

Working through a large change in Information Technology is scary and can be extremely unnerving for an organization. You are used to having that guy or gal down the hall that when something broke they just zipped down to fix it. Multiple cognitive biases can further undermine your decision and begin to wrap the previous “IT person” in a positive and untouchable light. The status quo bias can rear its head and tell you that change is bad.

Fear not, we all have a tendency to telescope our memories and distort the impact and timing of outages and downtime that occurred. Three years’ worth of problems compress down to a perceived six months. Finally many of us can be overly optimistic about situations where we felt we had control.  Outsourcing your IT can quickly turn ugly if you let these biases take hold.

Ultimately the struggle to work through these biases and make an analytical, data driven decision will serve your organization well. There will be further work if your new IT team is going to deliver the processes and efficiencies you were promised and are hoping for. Knowing what to expect and what good on-boarding should look like is going to help you and your organization push those biases to the side and really take advantage of what your new IT team can offer.

Ensuring your implementation of better IT is a smooth process requires that you and your organization trust the process. If you did your due diligence than trust that your new partner has your best interest in mind. They have developed an on-boarding process aimed at success because failure to do so would impact their work with their customers. Their process for evolving your IT demands your participation and input. If you fail to make time for this transition and are hoping that the magic bullet makes the problems go away you are setting yourself and your new partner up for failure.

The first step to better outsourcing your IT is you actually taking the first step and setting your organization and your partner on the path to success. Participate and thrive!

For more information about Outsourcing, including outsourcing your IT, visit: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/204652 for a great article on outsourcing for the entrepreneur.

e-Rate: Let the federal government help nurture your IT environment

e-rate is a program designed for education and libraries that allows these types of organizations to subsidize some of their telecommunication, internet and connectivity framework. With the update rules to the e-rate program 2015 and 2016 are great times to assess your technology environment and see if there are services or components that can help you deliver connectivity to your students, customers and staff.

Chess has helped various schools assess their existing footprint and develop a bid strategy to obtain e-rate funding for a variety of communication related projects. The key to these is understanding the do’s and do not’s of the e-rate program. Like many federal programs, there are a host of rules and guiding regulations to ensure fair and appropriate participation.
If you have questions about whether or not your program qualifies or how you obtain e-rate funding, feel free to reach out to your account manager today.

Getting Serious about Security

The year 2015 is touted as the year of “<insert need here>”. For some it might be the year of growth, for others it could be the year of finding that new job. In IT, for Chess, this is the year of educating clients about security. Grab a free anti-virus, run it once a week and all is well is now a thing of the past. Virus and malware rates are up, infection coverage is up and the number of attack vectors for those who wish to do your business or computer harm has never been higher. Organizations needs to think more proactively about security. Owners need to be aware of the vulnerabilities their environments have, mitigate those vulnerabilities and reduce their attack footprint.

The big problem? It’s hard. Understanding the weaknesses in your environment is a manual, challenging process and needs to be performed on going to maintain your environment. Bring Your own Device, cloud computing, ease of point of sale and other areas have all vastly increased how an attacker would infiltrate your environment. Chess stays up to date on the latest security information and vulnerability assessment methodologies. We have staff who can perform intense assessment of an environment and identify not only key vulnerabilities but we can assess their potential for misuse and guide organizations on how to plug holes, train staff and bulk up against security threats.

Billions of dollars are spent annually by organizations who develop ways to infiltrate your environment, steal customer data and wreck havoc on your systems. Is that free anti-virus the only protection you want for your network?