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Blog posts in IT support

An essential IT guide for freelancers, consultants and other independent professionals

May 28, 2013 by John McGarvey

Technology guide{{}}Francesca Geens runs Digital Dragonfly, a company that helps independent professionals find and use the best technology for their needs.

She's just written The ultimate guide to technology for independent professionals, a really comprehensive ebook that's packed with useful advice and information for independent professionals.

If you work for yourself as a consultant, writer, lawyer, accountant or other type of independent professional, it's really worth you hopping over to the Digital Dragonfly site and downloading this book.

At the very least it'll give you lots of ideas about how you can be smarter about how you use technology. And you might even find it saves you money next time you're looking to make an IT investment.

Download now from Digital Dragonfly >>

Of course, we have lots of information on IT Donut for independent professionals too. Don't forget to check out the three online tools every freelancer should try and this first-hand advice from a freelance writer and editor.

The four touchstones of business IT

September 19, 2012 by Craig Sharp

The four touchstones of business IT/building blocks{{}}I often speak to people who’ve worked for a big company for many years before deciding to start their own business. They are used to being in an office where they can pickup the phone, say “I need a BlackBerry next week,” and it just arrives.

But when they set up their own business, they have to deal directly with a mobile phone provider. Then they have to set the phone up, make it work with their email system … and often eventually throw the thing out of the window

The four touchstones to focus on

When you first start your own company, it can be hard to adjust to this DIY approach. And in order to get the maximum value from your IT investment, you need to consider a few touchstones of IT and telecoms: 

  • A functional email system that links to your laptop computer, desktop computer and mobile phone.
  • Some form of regular backup procedure that allows company documents and files to be stored and recovered.
  • Protection from the increasing number of internet threats, including spam, malware and viruses.
  • Business grade IT hardware that’s built for business users, not home users.

If you invest time and put thought into getting these four key areas set up correctly, or decide to outsource the management of these services to an external supplier, you can be more sure of being able to: 

  • Respond to email enquiries rapidly and retain an audit trail of messages sent from all your different devices.
  • Have confidence that you can recover lost or deleted information without it affecting your business or your clients.
  • Avoid threats that could damage your business or put clients at risk.
  • Rely on your IT hardware over the long term – you’ll know it’s giving you good value and increasing staff efficiency.

It really works

While running my company, Abussi, I’ve seen again and again how focusing on these areas has transformed how businesses operate and made them more efficient.

If you just tackle one of these areas, you can transform your business. So imagine what a difference taking care of two, three or four of them could make.

Here’s an example for you. Have you ever spoken to a larger company and been told “…oh, we are having some IT issues today so we can’t help you on that I’m afraid”? What impact would it have on your business if you couldn’t help a client when they called?

So, if you run a small business then don’t settle for second best or a home spun solution to your IT and telecoms needs. You need an IT system to match that of bigger companies. One of the best ways to to achieve this is to work with a local, focused and dedicated IT support provider.

Craig Sharp is the MD of Abussi IT, who provide Small Business IT Support in Birmingham

The trouble with geeks

May 02, 2012 by Lee Wrall

In fifteen years of IT support I've been around a bit. I've worked in big companies, supporting thousands of users as part of a huge IT team, and I've worked in small teams, supporting single-person companies. One thing that's universal is the contempt that IT people have for users.

Users are the problem

Users are nothing but a problem. They’re a blight that causes issues with otherwise perfect servers, networks and systems. At least, that’s what many geeks believe.

It's no surprise that IT departments are the most hated in many organisations. But why is this? It's not because they get paid any more these days, or that their role in the business is any more or less important than anyone else’s.

It’s because they make you feel stupid. It’s only when dealing with the IT department that most people will encounter someone with much more specialist knowledge than them at work. People are scared of the IT department. And the IT department resents everyone else for messing up its perfect IT systems.

A deep-rooted problem

This problem is bad. It’s deep rooted and it has to change. It’s completely counterproductive for everyone involved: both a company’s staff and the IT team itself.

Employees who have problems are reluctant to call IT because they don't want to feel silly. They know that as soon as they end their call to the 'senior technical support assistant' there will be humiliation and cackling. “John in accounts is so stupid that he doesn't know the difference between a back and a forward slash.”

I can imagine the mocking that prevails in IT department as I write. (It really happens – I’ve seen it first hand.) As a result, users tend to put up with problems. Rather than asking for help, they create their own workarounds, often creating more serious problems in the process.

IT people are here to help

As IT people our job is to help. We need to encourage people to call us for even the most minor things. If we don’t, the next time John doesn't call it could mark the start of a malware infection that takes down the company network. Or he might waste his time, taking six hours to do to a spreadsheet what a geek could do in five minutes.

The ‘them and us’ mentality has to stop. And when it does, users will be more productive and happier and the business will be more successful. Business owners must find outsourced IT providers or IT managers that encourage the right attitude. Because without users there are no geeks!

Lee Wrall is founder and MD of Everything Tech, an IT support and service provider based in Manchester.

The DIY guide to IT support

April 19, 2012 by Maff Rigby

DIY - IT support the DIY way{{}}I’ve always been a fan of DIY in the workplace as well as in the home. Doing as much as you can yourself before calling in the experts is not only a learning experience, but can also save you money. In times of economic uncertainty this way of working can help bring down costs – especially when it comes to IT support.

IT has become much easier to use and understand over the past five to ten years. You no longer need an IQ of 130 to set up a new laptop or install a new software package.

At the same time, there is an abundance of free information to help you fix your own IT issues. You just need to know where to look for it. No matter whether you outsource your IT support or not, here are a few tips that can reduce how much you spend and increase your self-sufficiency.

  • Find out who your super users are. These are the people in your business who understand how to create powerful macros in Microsoft Office, know how to set up and optimise a WordPress blog, or know their way around a MacBook. Publicise these skills, so other people know who can help with which issues.
  • When recruiting, look for people who are IT savvy. Make it a desired skill on the job description. This way you will naturally bring more IT knowledge into your company without having to specifically employ someone in an IT support role.
  • Always look for answers internally first. You’ll find an increasing amount of IT knowledge within your organisation, mostly gained through your employees‘ increased use of technology in their homes, their cars and their pockets! So before you call your IT support firm, ask your team for answers. You could be pleasantly surprised.
  • Create and maintain a list of your top IT issues. Make sure you publish it somewhere (like on your intranet) so everyone knows where to find it. What are the symptoms of specific problems, and what are the steps you need to take to resolve them? For example, if your wireless router crashes at a certain time of day (like mine does around 11pm!), put that knowledge into a document so anyone can diagnose and fix the problem
  • Finally, ensure you’ve exhausted all your options before calling in the experts – especially if you pay a call-out fee! Create a checklist of troubleshooting steps that people can follow, and channel all escalations to your support partner through a specific person who can check they are necessary.

Maff Rigby has over 12 years of experience in IT support and operations management. He is the founder of IT SmartDesk – a social IT service management platform which enables an organisation’s IT users to help themselves and each other.

IT support is dead

April 11, 2012 by Francesca Geens

Headstone – IT support is dead{{}}Do you pay for IT support? Does your business regularly suffer downtime? Need help sorting out unreliable email or computers that just don’t work? Been sold white-labeled products just because your IT support company gets a generous referral fee?

It that’s your idea of IT support then let me tell you why I think you are wasting time and money.

There’s no reason to pay for IT support

IT support is based around the premise of fixing problems when they occur and then charging for this. It should come as no surprise that most IT companies make more money through billable hours when disaster strikes than when your network is running smoothly.

In that sense, your objectives and those of your IT company are not aligned when it comes to taking care of your computer systems.

In 2012 there really is no reason to pay for IT support. Technology is at a stage where it just should not fail. Some IT companies make a lot of money adding complexity and then charging an arm and a leg to install and support it.

Ultimately it’s the complexity that leads to downtime. Simplifying your systems and doing things the right way to start with will help you avoid this expense. If you’re like most businesses, technology is your third largest expense after wages and rent. Make your IT budget work for you.

IT support is about maintenance and advice

These days, you should be paying your IT supplier for maintenance (yes, there is still a fee) and best-practice advice. You should be paying for their help to set up systems that are going to work and not let you down.

This means that instead of calling for help when things go wrong you, can call and get help to be even more productive. Find out how to get the most out of Outlook or Word, do more with your tablet computer (such as your iPad or Samsung Galaxy Note) and get to grips with the latest features of Windows 7.

Here’s your best IT investment

In my opinion, the best IT investment any business can make is an IT audit to bring your systems out of the Dark Ages and into 2012. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What IT problems recur again and again and why haven’t they been fixed?
  • How old are your computers?
  • What version of Windows are you on?
  • What version of Microsoft Office are you using?
  • Are your staff properly trained in the software they use everyday?
  • Is your email reliable?
  • Is your data backed up? Do you know how to access and check your backups?
  • Are you managing shared documents effectively?
  • Are you and your team able to work productively on the go?
  • Are you making the most of technologies like cloud and mobile computing?

Discuss these points with your current IT provider. Make sure you’re happy with the answers – and if not, shop around. There are lots of IT support companies out there and it’s important to find one that’s going to work with you and think proactively about your business.

Anyone selling you ‘IT support’ without considering these things is not being honest with you about what’s really possible.

IT support is dead. Long live small business IT consultancy! Ok, it’s not so catchy but it’s going to make your working day a whole lot better.

Francesca Geens runs an IT consultancy called Digital Dragonfly, which specialises in one-person businesses. She is especially interested in productivity and the use of information technology to improve people’s day-to-day business lives. She is setting up a new kind of IT company for small businesses to firmly challenge traditional notions of IT support. Are you ready to Be Nimble with your IT?

Find out more from these IT suppliers:

Dell
Acer
Apple
Samsung
Microsoft

How to understand IT support

November 16, 2011 by Maff Rigby

Car warning lights – get IT support help when you’re in trouble{{}}Many small companies struggle when it comes to IT support. When you do it right, it helps your business get on with things. In short: it’s important. Yet the job of providing IT support is often regarded as painful and costly.

No matter whether you outsource IT support to an IT support company or keep it in-house, it’s important to understand the basics. It’ll help you avoid the pitfalls of IT support.

Prioritise your business IT support

Understanding your business priorities and using them when prioritising IT support requests helps you to remain laser focused, working solely on the problems that are stopping you delighting your customers and increasing revenue.

Remember: you don’t need to fix every IT problem! As long as you are prioritising IT support issues in line with what your business needs to deliver, the low priority issues can wait.

Just be sure to review support issues regularly with your key stakeholders (your employees, probably), to make sure your IT support priorities reflect their needs and – more importantly – those of your customers.

Look for workarounds wherever possible. They might not provide a perfect fix, but they get things working again faster so you can minimise disruption and investigate a proper fix for the issue later.

Keep calm and carry on

I’m always amazed at the different responses people have when they encounter an IT issue. They can range from a resigned “we’re doomed” to an over-the-top “argh, we need to fix this ASAP” panic!

A good incident manager (the person who manages your IT issues) will keep their head, remain objective and gather the information required to make informed decisions, even in a crisis.

Even if something’s actually gone ‘BANG’, the secret is to stay calm. Gather the facts and bring the right people together to understand the issue. Again, prioritise things according to the priorities of the business. Once you’ve understood what’s gone wrong, you can make an informed decision about when and how to fix the issue.

Fix it yourself

Create and use an internal knowledge base so your employees can help themselves and each other with IT problems. This could be a simple page on your company intranet, a collaborative blog or wiki, or simply an Excel spreadsheet or Word document that you keep updated with information about how to fix IT issues.

Keep track of your IT support

It’s critical that you track your support issues and problems, so you don’t let any slip through the gaps. Regardless of whether you decide to fix them or not, you need to understand the type and number of IT issues you are dealing with.

Do this in a way that is simple to manage and update, and which (most importantly) works for you. I often find tracking your issues on a whiteboard is extremely effective, especially when you’re dealing with a major issue like a server failure or network outage!

Alternatively you can use a simple Excel spreadsheet to track your issues, though this can become a burden if the size of your organisation and the number of IT issues you face increases.

Maff Rigby has over 12 years of experience in IT support and operations management. He is the founder of IT SmartDesk – a social IT service management platform which enables an organisation’s IT users to help themselves and each other.

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20 inspiring and insightful Steve Jobs quotes

October 07, 2011 by Mark Williams

1 “What made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world”

2 “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

3 It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

4 “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

5 “Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

6 “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying ‘we've done something wonderful’, that's what matters to me.”

7 “We don’t do market research. We don’t hire consultants. We just want to make great products.”

8 “The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We're just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people – as remarkable as the telephone.” (speaking in 1985)

9 “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple, but it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

10 “My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other's negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”

11 “What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”

12 “I'm the only person I know that's lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year. It's very character-building.”

13 “You can’t just ask the customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

14 “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”

15 “You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

16 “When you're a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you're not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You'll know it's there, so you're going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

17 “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

18 “Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we've been thinking about a problem. It's ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.”

19 "I don't think I've ever worked so hard on something, but working on Macintosh was the neatest experience of my life. Almost everyone who worked on it will say that. None of us wanted to release it at the end. It was as though we knew that once it was out of our hands, it wouldn't be ours anymore. When we finally presented it at the shareholders' meeting, everyone in the auditorium stood up and gave it a five-minute ovation. What was incredible to me was that I could see the Mac team in the first few rows. It was as though none of us could believe that we'd actually finished it. Everyone started crying.''

20 “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

Five things meerkats can teach us about business IT

June 07, 2011 by Jonathan Edwards

Meerkat

This is a guest post from Integral IT, a Yorkshire IT support company.

They’re the friendly faces of a website that frequently gets confused with a financial comparison site. What time they don't spend standing up on their rear legs, they spend sleeping or scrabbling about in holes. And lots of them live in the Kalahari desert.

However, you might be surprised to learn that we can learn a lot about business IT from meerkats too (is there anything they can't do?):

  1. Don't neglect the big picture. In a mob of meerkats (that's the correct collective term), you'll find one on the lookout, perched on a high point to watch for danger in the surrounding area. Similarly, you should ensure that someone in your company has responsibility for making sure any changes to your business IT fit your overall plans.
  2. You sometimes have to hunt for the best nuggets. Meerkats dig around in the desert looking for beetles, spiders and other tasty treats. In the same way, proper research can reveal software, hardware and other IT stuff that makes more sense for your company than the obvious choices.
  3. Keep your options open. A typical meerkat burrow can have 70 exits, giving them plenty of routes to escape from predators or cope with a cave in. The same goes for your business IT: don’t have any single points of failure. Take regular backups and get expert advice on how to keep your data safe.
  4. Ask the experts for help. Meerkats are sociable and live in colonies of up to 30 animals. They even teach each stuff (really – it says so on Wikipedia). In the same way, your business IT will benefit if you don’t try and go it alone. Ask other companies like yours for advice and find an IT supplier you can really trust.
  5. Meerkats aren’t toys. In fact, they're disastrous pets, and like to bite people. The same goes for business PCs. They’re for business use, not for messing around. So you need to make sure nobody does anything that could result in a crash or cause security problems - like installing dodgy software.

The changing face of IT management

April 01, 2011 by Jason Slater

This is a guest post from tech blogger Jason Slater. Read his blog or follow him on Twitter.

The first business computer in the UK was LEO (Lyons Electronic Office). Designed and built for J. Lyons and Co, a catering and food company, it ran its first real program in 1951. LEO was based on the EDSAC computer (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) which was essentially a large calculator that could run pre-designed programs.

Computer bugIn those days a computer easily filled a room and ‘bugs’ were real bugs which would creep in and overheat the delicate vacuum tubes.

In fact, computers were few and far between, so queues to use them were a common sight.

Even into the 1960s (with machines such as the GEC 4000) and the 1970s (with the Xerox Sigma-5), the computing team was primarily engineering based.

The dawn of the desktop

In the ‘80s, many of us witnessed the dawn of the desktop computer. And it really was the desktop computer; it was pretty much tied to the user’s desk by a cable which needed to be plugged into a wall data socket. In those early days you couldn’t even move the computer without ‘parking’ the hard disk heads first.

The desktop computer created a need for IT departments full of people who knew the ins and outs of computers. They were the heroes who could rescue your work after you decided to lift the computer to clean up split coffee, without realising the movement would cause the hard disk heads to mash up the magnetic surface they were meant to be reading. (Should have parked them first.)

The changing IT department

IT departments are more devolved now. They’re more distributed and closely aligned with business strategy. You don’t see IT staff walking around with screwdrivers in their top pocket. They may not even have formal IT qualifications, particularly if IT support functions are outsourced or operated from a central location.

Computer issues are different today and they require different responses. Take the constantly shifting landscape of security threats. This is one of the most challenging areas for IT management.

In the mid-80s the biggest problems often came from users themselves. But now, now problems come from the outside - and they don’t stick to office hours. For instance, dealing with incoming spam email can be a headache.

In the past, the IT department may have been able to watch for specific words or phrases in emails, or spot spam by the address it was sent from. Spammers are more sophisticated now and make it a constant struggle.

Zero-day threats are a major problem too. No matter how up-to-date you keep your security software, you won’t necessarily be protected from threats that haven’t made it into the security software’s list yet.

Now we work everywhere

With the rise in mobility and cloud computing, people are being encouraged to work from anywhere at any time. Out of office hours (and often even during office hours) they use their own equipment – from broadband lines through to smart phones, tablet computers and printers.

It’s hard to provide support when everyone’s using different equipment. And you have to think differently about where your data actually resides. The IT department (or your IT person or IT supplier) needs to think strategically. It is almost impossible to provide a complete support and governance package with such diverse equipment and standards in operation.

(The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park is planning to rebuild the EDSAC computer. If you have a particular interest in EDSAC you could take a look at the EDSAC Simulator from the University of Warwick.)

(Image from Flickr user armaggesin under a Creative Commons attribution licence.)

Posted in IT support | 0 comments

What business IT can't you get the hang of?

August 02, 2010 by Administrator

Insert bullets in Word

I worked in the IT industry for several years. Now I write about it. Yet I'm convinced I'm never quite going to master certain areas of business technology. So, is it me, or are there some fundamental problems with the way these pieces of IT work?

  • All-in-one printers. These sound like a great idea. Print, scan, fax and copy documents from a single piece of equipment. But in practice, all those functions means there's more to go wrong.  Once you've fixed the paper jam, you just end up with landscape prints when you thought you chose portrait. Legible photocopying requires patience. And - of course - a big print job will tie up the whole machine for ages.
  • Changing passwords. Ok, so it's really important you use secure passwords. Avoid words you'd find in the dictionary, use upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation and you'll stay pretty safe from hackers. The thing is, these passwords are difficult to remember. And when your office PC forces you to change yours regularly, you'll soon be needing help because you've forgotten what you changed it to. Again.
  • Telephones. Sure, as a rule telephones are quite straightforward to use. But there's one area that's always mystified me: transferring calls. I've never seen an office phone system that makes this easy. You're virtually guaranteed to either cut the caller off, plunge them into an on-hold telephonic abyss from which they never emerge - or just transfer them to the wrong extension altogether. Please hold the line.
  • Microsoft Word formatting. Here's a confession for you: I use Microsoft Word almost every day, but each time I hit the bullet point button, I'm still not 100% sure what will happen. Big bullet points, small bullet points. Shaded bullet points, unfilled bullet points, inconsistent indentation ... if anyone can explain how I can get the same bullet points, every time, I'd be eternally grateful.
  • Laptops. When I first swapped my desktop computer for a laptop, I made lots of mistakes. First I got told off for leaving it on my desk overnight. So I locked it up, only to leave the keys at home the next day. Once I'd got the hang of that, I graduated to leaving the computer in one place and the power lead elsewhere. Whoops. I'm over these problems now, but it's surprising how many ways a new laptop user can trip up.

So, those are the five bits of basic IT I still occasionally struggle with. What are yours?

it just me, or are certain pieces of business technology almost impossible to get to grips with? Some everyday bits of equipment that should be easy-to-use but aren't.
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