Spring Clean

The springtime is frequently associated with longer days, warmer weather and a good old ‘Spring Clean’. Traditionally carpets were taken outside and beaten, furniture was given an airing and the floors were polished too.

Such domestic spring cleaning seems to have faded over the years, but the concept is familiar nevertheless. Just like cleaning out behind your bookshelves and under your couches, tidying up your IT is something that most companies put off. Yet a dust down of your business IT and systems can result in business-wide benefits, saving money and making day-to-day jobs easier.

Your Business IT spring clean check-list:

•Consolidate servers and storage systems. Have you recently looked at your current server or storage situation? ‘Sprawl’ is something that occurs naturally over time and sometimes a rethink of how applications are deployed and data is stored will make your systems more efficient and help with how you manage and maintain your servers and disk storage.

•Update, replace, or simply remove software and hardware that are no longer supported or out of date. Organisations can take on high operational and financial risk by running systems past their prime. Prime examples include Windows XP or the forthcoming Windows Server 2003 end of life (14/07/2015).

•Review desktop computing for opportunities to improve energy efficiency. Something as basic as unused computers or printers still plugged in, desktop computers and peripherals running around the clock when they don’t need to be, failure to use the power management functions built into desktop operating systems – all of these are easy ways to trim energy used by PCs.

In addition to this, desktop virtualisation is a viable option for improving your desktop estate. VDI lengthens a workstation’s lifespan, makes IT easier to manage and benefits the business, opening the door to working anywhere, anytime on any device.

•Make a tiered storage plan and make smart use of old systems. Match the investment in storage systems with the value and type of the data residing on them. Smart storage systems can help with compression and de-duplication, meaning you get more usable storage. For long term storage of inactive data or just for an economical, periodic backup of current data, a cloud back-up is a suitable storage solution.

•Capitalise on cloud and hosted/managed services offerings. For select software applications or hardware infrastructure, cloud computing and hosted/managed services can offer economies of scale, quality of support and convenience that many organisations would be challenged to match with internal resources.

•Streamline operations and free up time for both admin and users by updating the group policy design to grant access and rights to trusted users within major groups.

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Why ERP Training is Important to Your Organisation

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” – Derek Bok.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution training is important, however we would say that. Let me take five minutes to explain exactly why. When assessed training should be equal to or placed a little above the entire evaluation and selection of an ERP system itself. However, training is often the most overlooked and underfunded portion of any ERP implementation project.

When a decision is being taken to implement an ERP system in an organisation, training sessions to the end-users should be discussed but in reality they aren’t. The key focus at the time is often functionality, business benefits or system cost. Whilst these areas are indeed very important, if the financial and time resource is going to be invested in order to increase productivity, organisational efficiency and output (or whatever business metric) and the end-users using this system are unsure how to operate, the investment will certainly be under-utilised, no matter how intuitive the system is or how great the functionality is. Therefore training plays a vital part in ensuring end-users can realise the benefits of the ERP system for the business.

In the process of selecting an ERP system, during the “validation” or “cost case” phases, companies will determine the overall business goals. At this point the company should also be aligning training goals. Insufficient training can cause operational delays and impinge on realising such business goals.

While implementing a system, an understanding of the knowledge and skills required needs to be established. Additionally a business has to work out how best to use the functionality of the system – this could be inherently different for each individual business operation. By identifying the knowledge/skill gap and establishing best practices/workflow, end-users can now be effectively trained with a clear training plan being put in place.

In order for the end-users (and the business) to benefit, the training should be job role specific. The end-users need an understanding of the basic concepts of ERP system and then how to perform their specific day-to-day activities. Others who may require training include managers, who should have at least an appreciation of what the system does.

A select number of people will require more specific technical training so that they can manage databases, write report scripts, design workspaces, manage users and query the database for specific requirements.

With ERP training in general once the system is up and running and end-users are trained a business should begin to reap the benefits, however it is fair to assume that over time an ERP system will evolve to some extent. Therefore it may be necessary to conduct additional training sessions to keep everyone abreast of the changes that have occurred.

One final consideration for ERP training is that of new starters. As the cycle of new employees joining and ex-employees departing occurs, an organisation must ensure new individuals are well-versed with the company ERP system. This maybe ensuring new employees are trained/qualified as part of the recruitment process or training may form part of the on-boarding process. Think of the question the CFO asks the CEO:

CFO to CEO: “What happens if we invest in training our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

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How to stick to a New Year’s Re(IT)solution

So 2015 is now just a few weeks old and that meaningful New Year’s resolution is now just a distant memory.

We all know, New Year’s resolutions year-on-year aren’t kept for very long. After a few months, weeks or even days it’s back to the same old bad habits.

It’s not easy to make positive changes. You have to be committed and importantly (like with all change) you need a plan. Putting your objective(s) on a piece of paper is just the start, a written plan is vital, as writing it down means that it is no-longer just a thought in your head and now you can work out how to achieve your objective(s). Small, actionable steps along the way will make it happen.

Think about someone resolved to improve their health. Without a specific plan about eating well, exercising, etc. the chance of success would be severely diminished. Good intentions alone are probably not enough to maintain focus on what they need to be doing.

Dependant on will power they might do great for a while, but as the pace of life picks up, things start to slip. Missing a gym day as it’s been a long day already and you have an appointment with the sofa instead. They find themselves eating unhealthy food because it’s more convenient. Before long, they’re no longer working towards their goals, and they’ve started thinking (and convincing themselves) about how next year will be different.

For businesses this objective-setting exercise is no different. Every year organisations set admirable goals for development, but these goals stand little chance of being achieved if the business doesn’t adequately plan how to accomplish them.

Let’s look specifically at business IT…

What’s Your Goal: Before you figure out the right IT plan for you company, you must have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve…the BIG picture. You might have an excellent plan for achieving certain goals but if they are the wrong goals, then you’ve wasted time, effort and resources.

Going back to our improved health analogy, how do we decide what “improved health” means. Is it weight loss, improved cardiovascular fitness, strength training or better flexibility? The individual decides what they want to achieve and then may consult a specialist, such as a personal trainer, to put steps in place to achieve their overall goal.

Similarly many business organisations will have corporate objectives (e.g. flexible working hours for increased employee retention) that can be achieved through the means of IT (introduction of remote working IT solution). It is these IT objectives that then need to be broken down with a specialist to determine the key aspects of their plan.

Some times an external influence may also affect and have an impact on IT (just as a health-scare might shock the individual into action). Do you expect significant business growth and need to prepare for it? Do you need to upgrade to a new technology to remain competitive?

Plan to achieve the specific IT objectives that you have, otherwise you’re likely to end up with technology “solutions” that aren’t the right fit for your organisation, just because a solution delivers ‘business benefits’ doesn’t mean it will deliver them for you!

Eyes on the Prize

When setting your IT goals, it’s crucial to stay focused on the overall business plan. IT doesn’t exist for IT’s sake, it exists for the sake of accomplishing business strategies. Similarly, if you set IT goals that aren’t aligned, your IT investments will be less productive than they potentially could be.

The essential question is: what IT solutions do we need to achieve our business goals? As you look at specific areas of the organisation e.g. asset management, system integration, remote connectivity, security, disaster recovery, license compliance in your IT plan, never lose sight of the business plan and why you are investing in technology.

It Can Be Done

Although most New Year’s resolutions aren’t kept, some are and hopefully as we have alluded to the key is good planning. If a resolution (or even ongoing objective) for your business is to improve IT, you can make that happen with a solid plan that’s specific about goals and tightly tied to the company’s business strategies.

If you would like to speak in further detail about how Innov8 Technology can work with you as an IT provider, helping you set, work towards and achieve your IT and business objectives please simply contact us.

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Planes, trains and automobiles…The face of mobile working

Admit it now, we all do it, don’t be ashamed – we all people watch. When we’re out and about or travelling, waiting to catch a train, plane or other form of public transport. The eyes begin to wander and the brain starts to think, “I wonder where they’re going?” or “what they’re doing?” On a recent train ride to London, the 7:15 to Euston was busy with commuters and my brain was in ‘people watch’ mode. I began to notice that most people were using/carrying a combination of phones, iPads and other tablets, a work bag, personal overnight bag and of course a laptop and laptop bag. My observation at the time was that it all seemed a little excessive, I’ll explain why…

In my time at Innov8 I have only ever worked on a Citrix terminal in the office, I am fully aware of the technology’s capabilities and fairly regularly access my work applications from my laptop at home or on my iPad on the go. For those not too familiar with Citrix, in short it enables a full computer desktop experience to users of many different devices over a LAN or an internet connection.

As the train pulled out of the station and people started settling into their seats, plugging in laptops and VPN’ing some even with secure-keys (I should add that some of these laptops were the standard work issued laptops that appear as a throw-back from the 90’s), now I understand the need for security, it is important to protect data, but for the 21st Century this just seemed cumbersome and out-dated.

I wanted to check my work emails on my personal iPad (using my phones 3G to tether the data). The ‘Mail’ app doesn’t have my work email set-up partly for personal reasons and partly for security. I loaded the ‘Citrix Receiver’ app instead, entered the credentials and opened Outlook with all my emails there. If I wanted to, I could access business applications such as Sage or open Word/Excel documents and the like all on the go!

For a lot of people on the train that day they did not need their laptop to work, they could have utilised the technology they were already carrying and still worked effectively if only they employed Citrix.

The technology on offer has clear business benefits, which have recently been strengthened by the Citrix acquisition of Zenprise, mobile device management (MDM) specialists. With the Zenprise technology now part of the Citrix range (known as XenMobile) working remotely on mobile devices has just got easier.

Improving remote working, bring your own device (BYOD) and ensuring security are all current topics within the business IT market and businesses increasingly are starting to pick-up on and exploit the benefits.

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Choosing the right VDI pilot users

When looking at Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), there are several stages you will go through. Firstly you will research vendors based upon your requirements, budget, etc. Next you will want to run a proof of concept – that is, you’ve chosen a VDI product to use based on your own audition process of all the different options available. Finally before rolling out VDI across the organisation you will need to pilot the idea.

Choosing users for a VDI pilot is a crucial step. Don’t just pick random workers or look to super users; the results could be skewed…

Though you may only be dipping your toes into the VDI pool to get a feel for how it will perform, in some ways it may still feel like you’re jumping in head first. On the technology side, your proof of concept has probably made you confident that you’ve picked the right platform. But for this project to succeed, your users have to buy in, too. Choosing the right VDI pilot users is crucial.

So how do you choose the most appropriate users to get virtual desktop infrastructure? Some IT administrators take the dartboard approach, picking random people from all around the organisation. Others draw on names from a pool of employees who are known to be savvy pilot users because they can tolerate small issues before pushing the panic button. Still other admins choose a single department and roll VDI out a department at a time.

Each of those is a very common way to pick VDI pilot users. But to get the best idea of whether VDI is right for you and going to work, you have to take the randomness – or predictability – out of the pilot.

Those words may seem to contradict each other, but think about it. If you randomly deploy VDI, you might not hit your use cases and get feedback from people who don’t have the problems you’re trying to address. And if you deploy VDI to a group of tolerant users, you may not get the proper feedback on things that would affect other, less intuitive users.

The real way to choose the VDI pilot users is to look at the goals that caused you to look to VDI in the first place. For instance, if your business case is mobility, then make sure your pilot users are mobile workers. From there you can spread it around to all-day mobile users, traveling users, and occasional mobile users. If your use case is security, focus on users who have or are susceptible to the security issues you’re trying to resolve. If you’re trying to deliver graphical desktops to designers, don’t deploy the pilot to administration staff.

Of course, if you’re trying to accomplish something more fundamental, like reducing down time, enabling disaster recovery, managing OS and application lifecycles, the random sampling approach might be useful. Just don’t go to it by default. The more thought you put into the VDI pilot users, the better.

There are a many reasons to do VDI, so choose the users that fall into the bucket of problems you’re trying to solve. If you get to the pilot phase and can’t determine which users fit your use case because you can’t figure out your use case, step back and look at why you’re doing VDI in the first place. Perhaps another aspect of your infrastructure is more appropriate for you to address right now and you got caught up in the VDI buzz. Finding that out now is a lot better than learning it halfway through a production rollout.

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