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Jon Ryan

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6 Signs You Are Outgrowing Your IT Environment

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jan 11, 2017 10:57:22 AM

You hear it all of the time. “We don’t need to change our IT infrastructure. Everything is working fine.” But in many cases, everything is not fine. In fact, it’s probably worse than you think. Operating on an outdated IT infrastructure can have a substantial impact on your business and the morale of the people working within it. Here are 6 signs that you may be outgrowing that ‘perfect’ infrastructure.

#1 - Hearing Complaints from Users about the IT Department

In many businesses there is unfortunately a negative consensus about the IT department. Personality issues aside, the main reason users view the IT department negatively is that things just don’t work well. It seems like IT is always fixing something, or performing updates on something. Granted you can’t please everyone all the time. But you can recognize when your environment needs to be addressed. Keeping a pulse on the feelings of your users is important. I recommend starting a “Technology Committee” made up of power users. It’s a great place to think up new ideas, understand each department process, and monitor changes that may need some IT backbone to support it. 

#2 - Bottlenecks in Production

Your IT infrastructure is the highway for your data. But it’s not just about data only. It’s about supporting your company’s business process, production schedule, and labor requirements. Having an outdated infrastructure can have an impact on how smoothly everything is running. See sign #1 above.  If your infrastructure is making your production slow down, it’s time to reassess. Having a clear understanding of what those requirements are is crucial when making IT changes or technology purchases.

#3 - Users are not Working Efficiently apple-desk-office-working-8841.jpg

“Wait, you do that every time you run an order?” You’d be surprised what users have adopted as their ‘process’ to accomplish their job. Especially if the technology doesn’t support them to be more efficient. Get into the mind of your users. Take an honest look at what they have to do on a daily basis and ask yourself if you are providing the best infrastructure and tools for them to be successful. Making your users happy is important, but keeping upper management happy is paramount. If management realizes they are wasting labor on inefficient processes, you don’t want to be the cause of it.

#4 - Users Start Suggesting or Are Using Other Programs 

You have these ‘perfect’ tools and processes in place for everyone to do their job. But then you start to hear users recommending other ways to do things. Whether it’s a different program or a different way to handle data, a good sign that it is time to take a look at your infrastructure is when your users are using other tools than the ones provided. This can be a nightmare to manage and support. One user is using Google docs, another is working off an external hard drive, and some people just don’t know where to put their data.  Standardize on your technology. Pick programs or processes that support the majority of your users. Implement it and TRAIN your users how to use it. Adoption of any technology can be difficult.

#5 - Server Resources are being Consumed Past Its Limitations

This is probably one of the easiest ones to react to. But, sometimes the hardest to get in front of. Everything seems to be running like clockwork, then all of a sudden, your data drive has 1% open space left. Or you get a call that people can’t log into the Citrix server. Time to start putting out fires. But what if you could budget and prepare for growth ahead of time? You can, it just takes some checks and balances when it comes to your infrastructure. Do routine checks of server resources. Set quotas on server shares for end users. Make sure your IT processes are efficient and perform to support the size of your user and data workforce.

light-bulb-current-light-glow-40889.jpeg#6 - Don’t Actively Support a Mobile Workforce

“Get with the times, man!” Mobile data and application usage is the future of computing. Other companies are doing it and giving their users access from anywhere on the globe. Opening that technology to your users can drive productivity and increase the overall profitability of a company. In many cases adopting the mobility model of business is no more expensive than the old technology. Like using Office 365 for email instead of buying and supporting an onsite exchange server. Your users are talking to other companies too and hearing about mobility. Make sure to bring it to the table before your users do.

Becoming content with your IT infrastructure is easy to do. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken, right? But changing your perception of what ‘broken’ means is the key. Actively review your environment. Take those free lunch and learn meetings. Explore new technologies. You may be surprised how outdated your current technology is. Contact Network Center, Inc. for more information on future technology, free technology presentations, and how we can help you avoid having an outdated IT infrastructure.

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Topics: IT Infrastructure

Avoiding Technology Gridlock

Posted by Jon Ryan on Sep 16, 2016 2:15:00 PM

There are many components that all have to work together to ensure a healthy technology environment. From hardware and software, to network and cloud services, businesses need to get a full understanding of how these technologies interact with each other and what dependencies exist that can limit your IT growth. Here are some tips to help avoid “Technology Gridlock.”

city-cars-road-traffic.jpgSoftware Drives Hardware Technology

The world’s next best revolutionary software application is always just around the corner. There are 10,000+ new software patent ideas each year that come out of Silicon Valley alone. Not to mention the rest of the world. Commercial software vendors are upgrading their software at a rapid rate. You used to be able to see 1 – 2 software updates released yearly. Now, software manufacturers are kicking out updates and upgrades like baby penguins jumping into the pool at SeaWorld.

With all of that new “advanced” software technology and processing, hardware vendors are forced to increase the performance of their aging products. Microsoft comes out with a new operating system that increases the use of more RAM and faster processors makes hardware vendors step up their game and design better, faster machines to harness that power. At one time it was thought that Microsoft and hardware vendors were in cahoots to keep consumers interested in upgrading their systems.   

“So get to the gridlock part already.” Well, here it is. Hardware is limited right out of the box. Your shiny new server won’t be able to run faster than its rated speed. (For this example, we’ll assume overclocking or hyper-cooling isn’t a viable business option.) So as this newer and faster software is released, you upgrade to it. Why not, right? To a certain extent, yes. But where you can get into trouble is supported processor platforms and firmware support for newer technology running on older systems. Many software companies will release system requirement specifications for this situation specifically. The OS you are running may be supported, but your server’s hardware architecture may not. Be sure to consult your software vendor before making a purchase to verify the compatibility with your current hardware situation. 

Keep Your Service Agreements Active

Even though it feels like you are paying for an insurance policy that never ends, it is a best practice to keep your hardware AND software service agreements active. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages tenfold. As your environment matures, so does your reliance on technology advancements. Those advancements can only be unlocked using your current hardware and software through upgrades or add-ons.

Failing to hold service agreements can result in back-billing in order to to get your current, or penalty charges to put you in an active support state. Not only can this be a financial burden, you may not be able to upgrade your ERP solution because your storage controller firmware is on too old of a revision. Falling behind on updates, upgrades, or versioning changes, can leave your systems unpatched, vulnerable, or broken.

Latest Isn’t Always Greatest

What about all of those great updates and upgrades you get from your service agreements? Upgrade everything right away, right? Technology can be a tricky business. I was once told that you never buy the first year of a new body design for any car or truck. The manufacturer hasn’t spent any substantial amount of time fixing their design flaws. The same can be said for firmware, software and Operating System upgrades.pexels-photo-134643.jpg

Upgrading any of these technologies can cause other technologies to cease functioning at an acceptable rate. Many support companies like Network Center, Inc. will often recommend waiting for a service pack to be released, or a version .1 to come out before fully committing to a new release. In any case, you must be ready to roll back to a previous version if you upgrade and everything goes down. Test, test, test and test again if needed. Setup a test environment if needed. Pick a UAT (User Acceptance Testing) group to look for gaps and make sure everything doesn’t come to a screeching halt. There is no rush into new technology, even if it is just a versioning change. 

Take a Holistic Approach to Your Technology

This is the old adage - fixing one thing, breaks another. Your company’s ability to work at a high rate of efficiency is a result of the sum of all of its parts. There are individual technology pieces in your company but not one item can be overlooked. Each part of your daily activities makes up your business process. So any changes, or lack of changes, can have a serious impact on your daily process.

Dependencies are a huge part of the holistic approach. Most pieces of a process have dependencies on another. Once one part of the process is completed, then the next phase can start. This works on the hardware, software and process level. Having all of your technology documented and mapped out can better identify what dependencies your processes have on hardware, software, and other technologies. Just remember it can be a domino effect if you aren’t mindful of all dependencies. 

It Sometimes Makes More Sense to Replace Then Continually Patch

Aging of technology is inevitable. Hardware manufacturers will release newer models and no longer support older hardware. Software vendors will sometimes totally abandon a piece of software to move into newer technology. Case in point, dropping a custom database to move everything to a SQL database. In these cases, you are forced to move up and make a significant change. 

But what happens when technology is stagnant for a period. And when I use the word “stagnant” I mean slows down greatly. It’s possible that you are running a piece of software that has reached its full maturity.   The software vendor has since moved on or shut down completely and just provided patches. Or like in many cases, your needs have outgrown your software provider’s offerings. Your option then is just to patch, or make a complete change in technology and likely process.

In these cases, making a change before you have to, gives you time to plan, train, and execute. Getting caught at the end of the line with a piece of hardware or software forces you to stop your growth or limit your success. So plan ahead, look at your future and the future of your technology. Don’t get caught in Technology Gridlock.

If you enjoyed this blog and want to know more about Network Center, Inc. and how we can help your business. Please click on the link below. Thank you for your time in reading this blog post.

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Topics: technology

7 Frequently Asked Technology Questions

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jan 26, 2016 1:02:40 PM

techquestion.jpgEven though our customer base is widely diverse, we get some of the same questions from each customer.  Here are 7 frequently asked technology questions we get from our customers.

1. How can I create redundancies in my network to minimize outages and down time?

The best way to approach setting up network redundancy is to first look at what systems you rely on and where the possibilities of failure are present. 

Most businesses have most of or all of the following:

  • ISP (Internet Service Provider)
    • Possible ISP Failures (examples)
      1. IP or Configuration Change by the ISP
      2. Downstream ISP Partner Issues
      3. Physical Outage Due to Construction in Your Area
      4. Environmental Outage Due to Storm or Natural Disaster
    • ISP Redundancies

Often times overlooked as a major failure source, ISP redundancies can add a high level of outage protection.  Purchasing ISP from two different vendors allows you to failover to the secondary ISP as a backup.  Firewalls with failover capabilities can provide a manual or automatic failover option.

  • Internal Cabling

Cat(X) Ethernet cabling will eventually deteriorate and break down.  Testing your cabling or upgrading your cable to a higher speed will help reduce the amount of network traffic issues and outage due to aged cabling.  Older buildings are more susceptible to old cabling and rodent attacks.  (Nothing spruces up a rats’ nest more than some shiny blue Ethernet cable insulation.)  Running two runs to every location also provides you with port failover in case one line becomes unusable.

  • Hardware/Device Failure

Have one switch or firewall installed?  You should have two.  Hardware failure is the most common network failure event.  It is also much easier to prepare for.  With technologies such as switch stacking, you can link network switches to provide single management for multiple switches.  Redundancy is achieved by spreading multiple network ports on a device over two or more switches.  In case of a device failure, you have a secondary path for connections.  This also provides load balancing for Ethernet traffic, a bonus.

2. When creating a technology plan, how many years should I plan out to?

We have all heard “Do you have a technology plan?” Our first response is typically based on a 5 year and 10-year plan.  More than likely based on having to respond to job interview questions.  The reality is, you have to plan much shorter out than even 5 years.  A typical technology plan should be a 1 to 2-year plan and a 3-year plan.  Technology changes much too fast to plan out further than 3 years.  More than likely, your business needs will also change by then.  One-year planning is the most common as it is typically done for budgeting cycles and sometimes spills over into year two to tag the next year’s budget. 

3. I have backups, but how protected am I from data loss?

There is a little confusion on what kind of data protection backups provide.  Most IT providers set up retention schedules on a 1 - 2 week or 10-day schedule based on the requirements and budget provided by a business.  Meaning for a 2-week retention, you have 2 weekly full backups with night change data going back two full weeks.  This backup schedule is a rolling backup and moves with you throughout the year.  So anything beyond two weeks is unrecoverable. 

Here is an example: I deleted a file off the server 3 weeks ago.  I just realized that I need it.  My retention schedule is set for 14 days which means my files can only be recovered back two weeks.  The file is non-recoverable.

The reason retention schedules seem so short has to do with the cost of storage and the amount of it we need.  In order to recover files older than your retention schedule, you need to setup a bi-yearly, yearly, or even monthly full backup that is never updated.  This will cost you more money in storage, but will give you archived data to go back to.  In the all-powerful adage, time equals money, where time is how far back you want to be able to save and money is ultimately storage cost.

4. I have multiple lingering IT projects to complete. How do I identify, prioritize and get them completed?

troubleshooting-techniques-asking-the-right-questions-1024x576.jpgIt’s the same old problem that IT departments have been struggling with for quite some time.  I have too much to do, but lack the budget and/or labor power to do so.  Obviously each IT director has a better view into their business than we do, but what we can provide are ways to approach that tower of projects building up.  This is not an exact equation to solve all of your headaches, but hopefully it will get your thought process going.

  • Lay out all of your projects and prioritize them on impact to your business. By impact, we are referring to positive impact that increases business efficiency.
  • Now make three budget cycles representing the next 3 years. Start placing the high impact projects in the first two-year budget cycles without going over.  If you want, you can add an approximate 10% budget to each year cycle. 
  • Take the remaining projects and fill in the remaining budget areas in the 3 years with the smaller, less impact projects. You ultimately want to place the high impact projects in the first two years. 

Most businesses will stay pretty firm on IT budgets.  But you may be able to get some extra funds if you can justify the amount of productivity you will get back from a project.  Don’t forget to keep aging hardware in mind when prioritizing your projects.

5. How do I improve my Disaster Recovery plan?

What’s a disaster recovery plan?  Just kidding.  But in all seriousness, many businesses don’t have a DR plan.  When talking to our customers that don’t currently have a DR plan, we can usually put them in two categories, customers who don’t think they can afford it, and customers who do think they need it.  Disaster Recovery encompasses more than just IT, but since we are the IT experts, we’ll just stick to the IT part.  DR plans are designed to react to unplanned outages.  Whether it is theft, damage (sprinkler system triggered, vandalism, electrical spike), hardware or software failure, you need to be prepared to react.  If you have a DR plan in place, here are some helpful tips to improve your current plan.  If you don’t have a DR plan in place, give us a call.

  • Have your plan extensively documented. Make sure every step is clearly documented for someone to follow.  Assume that someone with little technology skills could follow it.  Meaning, you should make two versions of it.  One version that allows someone to get ahold of the right people to react.  Maybe it’s as easy as having a list of all of your service providers.  From your ISP, to your IT Company, to the Electric, Plumbing and Heating vendor. 
  • Create a Disaster Recovery Response Team. Identify key people within your organization to be part of a Disaster Recovery response team.  Train all of them in your DR plan and how to react to it when you experience an event.
  • Have local and offsite backup copies. When disaster strikes, you should have two locations to recover from.  A local copy will provide quicker access to restoring your data.  While a cloud or offsite backup is needed as a separate location for your data that is safe from the disaster event.  For those of you that only have one location, the cloud is a great place to store your backups.
6. Everyone talks loosely about ‘the cloud’. What would I use the cloud for?

This is typically a larger discussion with a review of your business process. But for the sense of answering the question in broad terms, the cloud has many uses. Here is a list of ways a business can take advantage of ‘the cloud’.cloud_concept.jpg

  • Microsoft Office 365 is ‘in the cloud.’ Microsoft provides SharePoint, Office applications, and individual OneDrive cloud storage for its subscribers.  While SharePoint and Office applications are still catching on, Microsoft OneDrive has been a favorite for users as it provides online cloud storage for personal files similar to Dropbox.  Office 365 is available to both personal and business users.
  • Offsite backup storage is becoming a popular use for cloud services. Remember the good old days of taking your backup tapes offsite as a DR solution?  With the advent of cloud services and faster (affordable) internet speeds, pushing your offsite backups to the cloud eliminates the need for offsite tapes.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) allows businesses to place programs in the cloud and access them from anywhere remotely. There is no longer a need to host applications on a physical piece of hardware anymore.  This option works great for businesses with aging hardware that only use their onsite server for a few applications, file storage and email.  Those services can all go to the cloud with IaaS, OneDrive, and Office 365.
7. I have seen some proposals for “All You Can Eat” managed services. What is the advantages and disadvantages of the “All You Can Eat” support model versus an hourly rate support?

All You Can Eat” (AYCE) support contracts have been around for a long time.  They are currently making a resurgence in the field of IT support.  You may be familiar with this ‘cost per pc’ model where businesses pay a total monthly charge based on the amount of PCs (or users) they have and receive unlimited support for those users.  To be competitive, we’ve also offered the same kind of support model.

In some environments the AYCE model can have its benefits.  The drawback is in the fine print.  Many AYCE support contracts require a 1-year agreement.  They also often only include a helpdesk type resource.  So be ready to pay for an engineer or onsite technician.  Most times they do not include any projects or new installations.  The biggest selling point behind them is Predictable IT Costs.  (As predictable as the fine print anyway.)

We try to give our customers the best of both worlds.  The benefit of predictable IT costs, no term contracts, and any resource we offer.  We offer a monthly fee based support model that only charges you for what you use called a NetSecure Support Plan.  We take a predicted amount of support hours, that we arrive at with our customers, and space the payments out over 1 year. 

It is not a contract term, but just spaced out to fit a yearly budget cycle.  The support hours never expire and can be rolled over to the next ‘term’ if requested.  Unlike AYCE support, which resembles more of an insurance agreement, with a NetSecure Support Plan you are not billed for work that is not being done. 

Hopefully this article has been able to give you an idea of what other businesses are currently inquiring about.  If you have questions of your own, or want to know more about these topics, please contact us at Network Center, Inc.

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Topics: Disaster Recovery Plan, technology

Analog Watch in a Digital World

Posted by Jon Ryan on Nov 17, 2015 10:46:33 AM

It’s easy sometimes to feel comfort where you are sitting with your technical aptitude. You feel that you have a general understanding on server and networking infrastructure, understand the concept of virtualization, and know enough about the cloud to consider playing with it or staying away from it. But, unless you are a 1’s and 0’s kind of person, how can you really understand the complexities of these technologies on a deeper level? You don’t want to fall behind the times and become an ‘Analog Watch in a Digital World.’

How We Got Where We Are

Everyone builds their IT experience differently. Some have built a lot of their technology experience from more real world applications than text book study. I’ve known IT managers that have been forced to learn technology on the fly right before or during an installation. Especially where they were not necessarily involved in the planning or selection of the technology but more as a byproduct of the install. “This new technology is going to impact my gear, so what is it and what does it do exactly?” 

If you are not working directly with the technology, we often rely only on text book, or now internet resources for education. Not only just text resources online but video through sites like YouTube or CNET. The issue with online or text book self-learning, is absorbing and applying (if possible) what you learned.

You Can’t Get There From Here

So where do I take my self-paced, homebrew learning from here? Comprehension can be difficult to gauge unless you are directly applying what you learned to a real environment. So unless you apply it right away, you will likely lose it and have to start the learning process all over. Time is money and extra time spent re-learning everything is time wasted.  Keeping that information fresh in your brain is a difficult and on-going task.


How to Make Your Brain More Fantastical

Obviously they don’t make an NZT pill that can make your brain Limitless like the movie/TV series depicts. If you can’t do it alone with just knowledge, what options are out there to help make all that valuable information stick in your brain?

Test Environment: Applying your new found knowledge in a test environment would be ideal, but not always practical. If you have the capacity to build up a test environment, we recommend writing a base image. Just in case things go awry.

Live Environment: Arguably the most dangerous way to ‘tinker’ with new technology, but will really put your newly found skills to test if something blows up as a result.

Online Lab: Many vendors provide an online lab environment for free. The best part about this is you can pretty much do anything to it without any consequence. Even on a test environment, most times you would want to fix it to keep the environment useable.

Free Online Testing: We all hate taking tests. But free online tests can help keep you sharp and gauge your technical retention. The only thing it is missing is the hands on aspect. But it will at least help you retain some of the book smarts you have.

Retaining and expanding your technical abilities will help you support your environment more efficiently as well as enhance your skillset to newer technology. We encourage you to explore new technologies and keep looking forward. In this ever changing technical world you have to keep moving forward in your technology and your technical skillset. If you don’t, you’ll just be another Analog Watch in a Digital World. 

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Topics: technology, test environments

10 Proactive IT Self-Assessment Best Practices

Posted by Jon Ryan on Sep 22, 2015 9:00:00 AM

IT-assessmentIn a world where new technology is introduced almost daily, you need to be proactive in your approach to your company’s IT environment design. The “Set it and forget it” approach only works with the As Seen on TV products. In fact your IT environment is drastically the opposite approach. But it is easy to think you are all set for the year. Especially after a large install. Even if you have accomplished all of your IT changes for this year, your journey is not over. Rather, it’s a constant re-assessment of your IT environment and processes. The hardest part is that taking a step back from your IT environment and reviewing your progress can sometimes be a difficult task for businesses.

Here are 10 proactive IT self-assessment practices that can help guide you:

1. Don’t Get Too Content

Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken, right? Wrong. Turning on your IT “Cruise Control” can make you drive right by new technology opportunities. Take more of a proactive approach. “How can we improve on what is working for us?” Search out those inefficiencies and improve on infrastructure and process. A quiet IT environment doesn’t always mean there isn’t something that could be running even better!

2. Review Your Environment Often

Whether you realize it or not, your business is progressing and changing daily. You should be aware of these changes as they are happening, however the recommended business practice is to do a complete review at least quarterly. Keeping your technology and processes in tune with your ever changing environment will help drive efficiencies and make your business run as smooth as possible.

3. Create a Technology Group

Your people are one of your biggest assets. They can also provide unique visibility into your systems and processes. Ask for volunteers for a technology and process committee. You’ll find out quickly which employees are genuinely invested in the health of your company. Pick people from all departments, no matter what level of IT know how they have.

4. Review Your Business Process

Technology-Assessment

If your technology is currently not providing what you need, you may need to look at your overall business process to see what changes need to be addressed. Business drives technology. So if your business processes are in place, they will guide your technology infrastructure. Overlooked or sloppy business process will result in sporadic IT purchases. Kind of like plugging individual holes in a dam rather than reinforcing the entire structure.

5. Attend Technology Conferences

I will also add attending technology webinars to this as well. You can’t think about what to implement if you don’t know what exists. Make yourself available to attend (and pay attention to) webinars for new technology. Invite your newly formed technology committee to watch them. Have a review session with your committee and get their input on where that technology may fit in your business.

6. Be Open Minded

One of the biggest faults in the IT industry is being close minded to new technology. The “We’re all set.” approach can make you miss out on new tools that make you and your employee’s job easier and more efficient. Try to be open to all new possibilities. You never know which ones will help propel your company to the next level. Use this approach when choosing which technology shows and webinars to attend.

7. Think Like Your Customers/Employees

Take a look at your company from the outside. Put your feet in the shoes of your customers. Or if you don’t necessarily have direct customers, put yourself in the mind of your users. How easy is it for the user to operate? What will their experience be? Does it make business sense to spend time and money on enhancing their experience?

8. Weigh Advantages Not Just Cost

Getting caught up on cost can obscure your view to advantages. Surprisingly, the advantages in many cases can justify the cost and even show you a return on investment with new efficiencies. Talk to an engineer or a consultant to identify inefficiencies and determine what the resulting fix will do for you versus the overall cost. Cost/benefit analyses exercises can help.

9. Don’t Be Afraid of New Technology

Successful installation and adoption of new technology can sometimes steer you away from implementing new technology. It may seem like you are taking the plunge by considering different technology. Just make sure to ask for detailed installation, support, and training services provided by the vendor. This is also a good time to lean on your IT service provider for environmental preparation and support resources.

10. Talk To Your Peer Business

Chances are, if the technology exists, someone is already using it. Most businesses have “Business Friends” or Peers that they trade stories with. Open up a dialog with some of your non-competitive business peers and talk about what has and has not worked for them. You may be surprised to find that you have some of the same experiences with technology. Our nVision 2015 technology conference is a great resource for this as well.

Hopefully I was able to give you some helpful ideas on how to approach performing an IT self-assessment. For more information about IT Self-Assessments, to have our company perform an official assessment, or to talk to a consultant, please contact Network Center, Inc.

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Topics: IT assessment, proactive IT

7 Future-Proofing IT Practices for Your Business

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jul 17, 2015 2:00:00 PM

futureSo here it is, the answer to all of your business questions. Ok, so maybe not the answer to all of them, but at least some insight on looking forward and being as prepared for the future as possible. We all know that it’s not what you deal with in life, but how you deal with it that makes all the difference. Being prepared for diversity and change within your business will help solidify future IT infrastructure. 

As with any article, everyone’s IT environment is unique to their business. So while these practices may not exactly match your environment, they are thought points to get you thinking of ways to help future proof your company for years to come.

1. Plan for Expandability

When choosing your IT Infrastructure, you have to be cautious not to limit yourself for future expandability. It’s important to look at your current resources and plan for approximately 20 - 30 percent growth over the next 3 – 5 years. This will account for average to good growth. Even if you don’t grow at that rate, you are at least capable of growing to that size without making a significant investment in your infrastructure.

That doesn’t mean you have to buy a bunch of processing, memory, and storage up front. But you can choose hardware that is expandable. This is where some of the higher server cost comes from. Entry level servers are often times limited to specifications such as a single processor and maximum of 32GB of RAM. For a business looking to eventually get rid of onsite hardware, these are great servers to buy you a couple more years until you can phase it out completely.

Essentially, expandability means not painting yourself into a corner with your technology. Make sure to share your growth predications and expectations with your IT consultant to design the best fit for future expandability.

2. Look at More Than One Option to Solve a Problem

Sometimes the hottest problem is the one that gets all the attention when upgrading your IT Infrastructure. It’s easy to get “caught up in the now” of an IT limitation especially when it is a forced upgrade. In many cases the immediate problem is a pre-cursor for more problems to come. You should try to ask yourself “What else is affected by this?” “How will this change impact what we are looking at doing in the future?” “Is there a change that we can make that will fix this problem and prepare us for future changes?”

You don’t want to purchase the same hardware 18 months later. It’s easier sometimes to use the band aide method of “patching” a problem. Depending on the issue, many times it’s your infrastructure telling you there is a need. So instead of replacing the same hardware with newer same hardware, look at options of changing the current way your infrastructure is setup to accommodate future changes.

3. Have a Documented Disaster Recovery Plan and Test It Often

When everything starts to “hit the fan,” what is your plan for recovery? Many businesses have a “plan” or idea of what to do when their systems fail. But having a documented plan will help you react more quickly and consistently if you ever experience a disaster. Many people also relate a “Disaster” to something like a tornado, or flooding. In which case there are more things to deal with than just their infrastructure. But disasters can range from theft, power outage or internal sprinkler damage to the extreme cases. Some may even consider complete server hardware failure due to a power spike or general failure a disaster scenario.

Having an off-site disaster recovery plan will help you prepare for the worst. But in some cases, when it needs to be activated, it fails or is a convoluted process. The easiest way to document your disaster recovery plan is to design it with an engineer and get a clear understanding of what it will take to fire it off. Then, once it’s installed, test it. You should test your DR plan 1-2 times a year. It will give you and your organization some comfort as well as expose weak points in the process. You may need to upgrade your switching if your data processing requirements have grown.

4. Actively Monitor your Network & Server Performance

It’s your daily operation. Pushing data in, out, and around your network. Network and server performance are the veins and heart of your infrastructure. Just like an EKG scan, network and server monitoring can give you insight to how fluidly data is moving, choke points, and predictive failures. Performance monitoring can also help identify trends. At 3pm every day your network may run really slow. Having that information can assist in finding a process that could be pushing too much data during the work day. You can also identify suspicious network activity related to viruses or malware.

5. Review your Business Processes Frequently

As your business grows, so should your business processes. One of the problems a business can run into is upgrading their infrastructure but not their business process. It’s like putting twice the size engine in your car, but still only driving at 20 MPH. Although the growth of your business will dictate the frequency, we recommend you do a business process review no less than once a year. Performing regular Business Process Reviews will help you predict process issues and take advantage of all of the tools you have available now and in the future.

6. Build a Technology Team of your Employees

You would be surprised how many of your employees would volunteer for a technology committee. One of the stumbling blocks in using technology is getting a grasp on it. Instead of just leaving it up to a single IT administrator to train the company on new technology, use a technology team. This will give you more insight to your technology from different perspectives. It will also allow you the welcome input of efficiencies and improvements from your team. Ultimately steering your future IT purchases in a direction that is fully beneficial to your company.

7. Invest in your Technology

It’s easy to see improving technology as an expense instead of an investment. But having visibility in all of the previous points in this blog can help you make decisions that are not wasted. One of the biggest fears is buying all of this technology and only using 10% of it. Getting a clear vision of why you are purchasing the infrastructure you are looking at and what it can do for you now and in preparation for the future will make that decision easier. Quantizing your investment is important too. Instead of looking at the purchasing number and cringing, think about the efficiencies it brings to your business and where it will take you in the future.

For more information on any of the points listed in this blog, please contact us. We’d love to talk to you about where you are now and what you want to do to future proof your business.

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Topics: Network Monitoring, IT practices, expandability, Disaster Recovery Plan, IT Infrastructure

Microsoft Windows Server 2003 - Your Chance to Leave Hardware Behind!

Posted by Jon Ryan on May 15, 2015 4:00:00 PM

1-1With the impending retirement of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 on July 14th, businesses are quickly approaching their deadline to upgrade their server OS, applications, and most likely their hardware. Some might think just upgrading the OS and the hardware will solve all of their aging OS problems. The variable in that equation is applications. File shares, printer shares, and Active Directory are only a small part of most business' headaches. 

Where the Application World is Headed

If you haven’t been recently looking at application services, you probably aren’t aware of how many are moving to the cloud. Applications like QuickBooks and Dynamics already have cloud options. Most ERP/MRP/HRIS programs offer both an on premise and cloud hosted version. What does that mean for you? Well, traditionally, even when a business only runs one fat client program, they would buy a physical server to house that application/database.

Fat Client programs are usually designed to run a ‘client’ install on each computer, with the database residing on the server. This connection between the database and client program is constantly connected and usually updating in real time. This, in turn, uses a large amount of constant bandwidth and ties up both server and computer resources. Over the past few years, application vendors have transitioned their fat client programs to the cloud. Now, you can simply log into a website and have access to all of the tools and functionality of a locally installed database program.

“OK….where is he going with all of this?”

How this Relates to Windows Server 2003

So we are back to Server 2003 and what the purpose is of this server in your business. If you are only utilizing it to house Active Directory, file shares, and one or two applications, there are online services available for you to not only retire the operating system, but the hardware as well. How do we do that?  Let’s take a look at what the current roles your server is providing and what online services there are to cover those roles.

blog-table2

Most of the larger software providers have been providing online services for quite some time now. Others are also following suite. As hosting and cloud services become even more inexpensive, we will see smaller application providers offer an online solution.

2Migrating your server roles to online services will lower your dependency to onsite hardware. The most efficient way to approach moving to online services is when a major upgrade is apparent, hence Server 2003. *wink* *wink* 

How the Cloud Plays Into All of This

Migrating away from hardware doesn’t just rely on hosted services. Cloud resources have come down in cost substantially over the last couple of years. With internet speeds increasing and becoming more affordable, businesses are able to budget operating IT costs into their IT plan. If it's time for you to replace your 2003 server and your server roles are not available online, you can spin up your new server in the cloud rather than acquiring hardware. Dependent on internet speeds, you can migrate away from onsite hardware all together.

The Future is Here

Our recommendation is to review all of your server roles and determine what services are available online and whether spending a large capital expense is necessary. We encourage our customers to invest that money in training and to invest in less hardware dependent solutions. It’s the wave of the future, and your chance to leave hardware behind.

Contact Network Center, Inc. today and speak with one of our technology consultants to see what options are available to your business. We can help you save money and turn that capital expense into an investment into the future.

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Topics: technology consulting, Cloud Services, Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Upgrading hardware, IT Plan

The Mobile Office-How Mobile Are You?

Posted by Jon Ryan on Dec 19, 2014 3:00:00 PM

jon_1Many of us have an idea in our mind about what it means to be mobile. Back in the day, the advent of pagers and bag phones for your car meant ultimate mobility. Obviously a lot has changed in technology over the years. How do these advancements change your impression of being mobile? Let’s take a look at modern mobility and exactly just how mobile your “mobile office” really is.

Defining the Mobile Office

There is no defined parameters to describe the mobile office. Software vendors will each have different ideas of what it means, mainly to help pitch whatever product they are developing. Some people think if they can just see their work email on their phone, that’s enough to have a mobile office. But the truth of the matter is you define what qualifies as your mobile office. Through the wonders of modern computing and the development of high performance wireless networks, you can take more of your office with you than you may think. 

Technimonolgy

Clearly a misspelling of technology. But for some businesses, spelling out the usage of mobile technology is difficult. What is available? What will my employees be able to access? How will they use it? What risks are there once that information is accessible outside of my network? Is all the work even going to make my business more successful? All very good questions. Let’s take a look at what is available. You can’t use a tool if you don’t know it exists. We’ll break these up into categories.

Mobile Computing – “How can I do business when I’m on the road?” Mobile computing is not limited to just cell phone use. You can deploy Microsoft Office365 or Google Apps for business. These applications and services can be used on mobile devices, tablets, and laptops anywhere you can get on the internet. Mobile sharing of documents is becoming very popular. 

Mobile ERP, Order Processing, and Analytics – “Mobile sharing of documents and communication is nice, but I’d like to make decisions on the ERP side.” You’ll be surprised to know that most newer ERP solutions have mobile capabilities. Review orders, check labor scheduling, look at sales forecasting, and resource planning all from your mobile device. With sign in authentication you can take a look inside your network and operations securely. And if your current ERP solution doesn’t have a mobile app, that’s ok, we can build you one.

Mobile Communication – Ok, we aren’t just talking about using a cell phone to call someone. Clearly we all know the options we have there. Some phone systems allow users to not only forward their desk phone to their cell phone but also give you advanced communication options. Through technology like Cisco’s Unified Communications Manager you can receive direct calls to your cell phone, hiding your personal cell phone number from the caller. And that’s not all. Both the Cisco Jabber client and Microsoft Lync can provide presence and chatting through mobile devices.

Mobile Infrastructure Administration – How would you like to see the health of your network from anywhere around the world? Well, it’s more than possible. Remote management and monitoring software is available for mobile devices. From getting alerts of network outages to remote management of switches and servers, you can attend that conference in sunny Florida while keeping an eye on things back here in the frozen tundra.

Security

jon_2All of this mobile access is great, but what about security? The most common issues with security are on cell phones or tablets. Products like Maas 360 and Zix One can provide security on company owned or employee owned devices. With Maas 360 you can enforce company policies on devices. If a device becomes lost, you can remotely wipe that device. Zix One handles mobile access by providing a window to access company data. No data physically resides on the device. There are other products out there that enforce security on mobile devices. We can help you find one that fits for you.

Benefits

What do my employees get out of working from a mobile office? Commonly, your biggest hurdle with productivity is when you leave the office. Traveling eats up hundreds of hours of productivity per year for the average company. Providing your employees with a way to continue to be productive while away from the office will lower that number substantially. Being able to work from home, on the road, at a customer site, or anywhere with an internet connection gives your company the advantage of continuing business from anywhere.

For more information on mobility and what it can do for your company, contact NetWork Center, Inc. to meet with one of our Mobility Analysts. And yes, I did write this on my tablet at a local coffee shop.

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Topics: Mobility, Mobile Office, Mobile Computing

IT Infrastructure: Expense or Business Investment

Posted by Jon Ryan on Aug 25, 2014 2:00:00 PM

1It’ll be here before you know it. You are told by your IT provider that your hardware needs to be replaced. “Again?  Didn’t we just replace that recently?” The mindset of the traditional business is to only purchase infrastructure based on their depreciation schedule. In some cases that schedule can be up to 5 years. Depreciation is often used by businesses for capital purchases to help deduct expensive infrastructure costs. But what is the driving factor to replacing or upgrading your infrastructure?

Days of the Old

Back in the day, businesses relied more on manual processes to operate as a business. File cabinets and paper copies were a large part of business process. People actually used “In-boxes” on their desks to process requests. Most of the company infrastructure was aimed at backbone services only. Businesses would purchase phone systems and financial processing servers for running the core business infrastructure. Network traffic was minimal and desktops were used until they no longer powered on. Businesses would re-use their old hardware until it was completely necessary to replace it. Thus viewing this as a necessary expense that only needs to be replaced once completely unusable.

Today’s IT Landscape

Fast forward quite a few years to today’s IT needs. The technology landscape has changed drastically. In today’s world, server and desktop computer processing is the center of your business. “In-boxes” have been replaced by email and workflow processes and that core server is being used for more than just backbone application processing. Computer technology has become the center of every business. To show how much we rely on technology, just think if your computer crashes or you lose your data. Or your servers are down for several days. What kind of impact does that have on you and your company?  One thing that many businesses don’t realize is that their business drives your technology needs. As businesses grow, more resources are needed to support the growth. Faster and more efficient processing of your day to day operations can lead to very substantial efficiencies. When new systems are put in place, it is not uncommon to adjust internal process to keep up with the faster technology.  That pile of orders sitting on your desk no longer takes a week to get into the system. Resulting in faster order processing and more output.

2IT as a Business Investment

As opposed to traditional views of company technology being an expense, something that is only done out of minimal necessity, businesses need to start realizing and thinking of their technology as a Business Investment. In order to really see your technology as an investment, you have to ask yourself, what does my technology drive? You’ll be surprised to find out that it drives EVERYTHING! From scheduling, to payroll, to orders, to accounting, to communication, to profit, your infrastructure is there processing it all. As you do with hiring and investing in good staff, you also need to invest in your IT Infrastructure. It is not uncommon for us to see servers and infrastructure that is 5 - 7 years old. Many times only replaced because of discontinued OS support. But the more important issue with using antiquated technology is that with all of advances and the fast changing IT world, there are much more efficient technologies to take advantage of. Possibly even propelling your business to an all new level.

At NetWork Center, Inc. we can help review your current technology age and usage and recommend any changes that might be needed. With over 28 years of in the technology industry, we have the engineers and consultants that can help you determine your IT business investment opportunities. 

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., IT Consulting, IT Solutions, technology consulting

The Importance of a Business Workflow Process

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jun 27, 2014 4:00:00 PM

Business Workflow Process 1 resized 600As a small to medium business it is common that internal process workflow can many times get overlooked. Even though it’s an integral part to all businesses, having business workflows implemented and documented usually takes a back seat to other business operations. In most cases businesses will operate well enough without a defined workflow process. 

For the purposes of this article we define Business Workflow Process as an activity that is created through software or documentation with the intension of directing employee actions/activities into a defined and consistent process. So let’s look at some of the advantages of implementing a defined Business Workflow Process.

1. Defines Process and Drives ERP
If you currently don’t have business workflows setup for your company, there is no better time than now to start developing them. Creating workflows will help define your business processes and subsequently drive your ERP solution. Every business has an ERP solution even if it’s not contained in a single solution. 

Some ERP solutions have workflow processes built in. For those that don’t, companies must create their own through documentation or programs that have some kind of workflow capabilities. Microsoft SharePoint is many times used for creating workflow processes. ERP programs can also assist with workflow process creation by taking advantage of built in workflow features. Process workflow can also help determine what ERP solution would fit your business model.

2. Creates Structure
No two people do their job exactly the same, so to operate a business with a great deal of efficiency, the trick is to get them to work together fluently. Business workflow can be created down to the individual job level. This not only gives you control and insight into your business process, but also gives you security and consistency during employment turnover. Operating a business with a loose process structure can be costly when dealing with correcting errors and managing damage control. Every business should have a repository of process flow charts and workflow definition documents.

3. Enforces Policy
Business workflow processes can help enforce the policies of your business. You can direct users to refer to the workflow documentation for the proper process to follow. Within the workflow documentation be sure to reference specific policies within the process. This simple addition to your business model will help ensure your customers are treated in a consistent manner and increase your level of business process continuity.

Business Workflow Process 2 resized 6004. Is Transparent To Your Customers
Having a defined workflow process will enable you to better serve your customers. Aligning your business processes to the needs of your customers is a win-win solution. One of the business characteristics customers look for is confidence and consistency within a business. Simply put, if you are confident in your processes, your customers will be confident in you.

5. Helps Define Technology Needs
Defining a workflow process will allow you to review and compare it to your technology plan. Creating, or changing your process workflow can have a substantial effect on your IT infrastructure. Knowing ahead of time will help you budget for those changes.

While developing and implementing a process is important, defining your future workflow processes will also help you plan for your future technology needs as well. Try to work on a future process plan. Maybe it’s a wish list of improvements, or a plan to add additional users or steps in the process. Having clear sight of your future process workflows will help predict and plan for those changes.

6. Identifies Gaps in Business Process
Implementing a business workflow process forces each business to review their processes in fine detail. This exercise is a great way to find out what areas of workflow need work or are missing completely. I’ve assisted customers to create a complete workflow system starting with nothing. After discussing general workflow with management I interviewed department managers and created workflow documentation that was later reviewed and approved by management. This allowed the business to see the areas that lacked detail in process. Once we defined those areas, managers were able to “fill the gap” with new process documentation to give employees clear definition on process.

Whether you’re a large enterprise business or a small 20-user company, Business Workflow Process can help you become more efficient, and more profitable. To find out more about our consulting services that include Enterprise Resource Planning, IT Infrastructure Planning, and Process Workflow Management, contact NetWork Center, Inc. for more information.

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Topics: technology training, business workflow process, technology consulting

Luck, Lifecycle Management, & Technology Debt

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jun 6, 2014 4:28:00 PM

Many companies underestimate the impact and cost a system failure would have on their business. Your IT Infrastructure in many cases is a silent hero that just churns away in its own room, out of sight and out of mind. But when it goes down, the impact can be unimaginable.  The easiest way to test this is to imagine what turning off one of your servers would do to your company’s productivity. How much would that cost you per hour, per person? The fact that it hasn’t happened to your business can give you a false sense of security, but you have to be careful not to confuse luck with technology reliability. Let’s take a look at how some companies mismanage their infrastructure lifecycle and end up with a large technology debt.  recycle keyboard resized 600

Lifecycle Management

Lifecycle management is interpreted differently from company to company. Unfortunately, it is more common for a business to invest time and budget into other aspects of their company rather than their IT Infrastructure. Getting on a lifecycle management schedule will help you make sound purchases and keep your infrastructure up to date and reliable.  

retired computer1 resized 600Antiquated Gear

“We have all of this gear and it is still running fine.” Many companies use the warranty of products to manage the lifecycle of their infrastructure. It may shock you to know that the common product warranty is 3 -5 years, usually with a 2 year extension. Best case scenario you are looking at the total lifecycle of hardware at 7 years. By law, manufacturers are required to provide replacement parts for their products for 7 years. After that time, you are left to finding old stock or used parts through web storefronts. Let’s think about it for a minute. What really drives lifecycle management? Hardware reliability, repair costs, warranty, and budget are all determining factors. But let’s talk about one of the other driving factors that is maybe not so well known.  

Business Process

Hardware and software limitation can have a negative impact on how you operate your business. Are you missing out on newer technology because you are still using a 32 bit server? Do you turn down technology advancements because your network won’t be able to handle the increased traffic? Your overall company business process can suffer from antiquated hardware and software, leaving your processes and efficiencies stuck on technology from the past.  

Technology Debt

With the retirement of Server 2003, more and more companies are finding out they have a technology debt. For years they’ve relied on old gear to do the core processing of their everyday business. Server operating systems took a big leap with the original release of Server 2003. Businesses implemented it and relied on it for many years. The problem is there were restrictions that we didn’t even know about at the time. Now with its retirement, businesses are caught having to replace it whether they budgeted for it or not. Many companies haven’t been upgrading their infrastructure using lifecycle management.  It’s at this point that you really find out what your technology debt is. In simple terms, it’s all of the antiquated hardware and software that should have been systematically updated over the years, but wasn’t. Your technology purchases all come to a head at one time. Most companies have gotten accustomed to not budgeting for technology each year. Now imagine what happens when you have to spend $50,000 - $100,000 or more in one year.  

We assist customers with their lifecycle management so that their IT budgets are smaller per year and more predictable. Don’t leave your hardware and software integrity up to luck. Contact a NetWork Center, Inc. sales associate to find out how to get a lifecycle management model that works for your company.

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Topics: Technology Solutions, Protection

Technology Partnerships-Sitting on the Same Side of the Table as Your Customers

Posted by Jon Ryan on Apr 25, 2014 3:00:00 PM

Technology PartnershipChoosing an IT company can at times be a difficult decision. In most cases businesses will check around with other businesses to find out whom to work with. A lot of companies will sometimes pick an IT provider that mirrors their own business philosophy. Other companies rely on their experience in the sales meetings and interaction stage. In all cases the decision you make will affect not only your IT infrastructure but your entire business. Let’s take a look at working with a company that approaches their relationship with their customers as a technology partnership versus a simple sale and how it can benefit your business for years to come.

Cross Table Selling

For years, cross table selling was part of the sales ‘dance’ between a potential customer and the sales associate. Like used car sales, this drove the “negotiation” process for pricing. Those same techniques are still in use to this day with some unfortunate consequences. We’ve all witnessed the uncomfortable “show up and throw up” sales pitch. Here are the products the company has, and if all of them are shown to the customer, maybe it will spark some needs that are buried in the customer's brain. Obviously the wrong approach, but surprisingly still used to this day. The impact, of course, is the total lack of deductive reasoning. The ‘need’ may surface in time but more than likely by accident. Not only will you miss important details that lead to more investigation, but you will undoubtedly start the business relationship on the wrong foot.  

Technology Partnership Approach - Sitting on the Same Side of Table

So how is the Technology Partnership Approach different? Every company out there wants your business and will many times throw around the idea of being “partners” more than a provider and a customer. Also, we don’t want to confuse technology partner in the terms of business partner or reseller partner. We are not looking to team up with you to sell our services to other businesses. What we are referring to here is helping you decide which technology options are a good fit for your business, even if it doesn’t include a product that we sell.

Technology PartnershipLet’s look at an example of the Technology Partnership Approach. A sales associate has a call with a potential customer, and on the first meeting listens and learns as much as possible about the customer’s company. It is at this point that you can choose your path. In the Cross Table Selling approach, the sales associate will just start opening up the catalog of products and start firing through which ones might be a fit for the customer. Kind of a “this is all we have, hopefully one of them fits” approach. In the Technology Partnership Approach the sales associate or engineer relates the technology to the customer’s process. How is that customer currently using the technology they have, and why do they feel that is the best route for their business process. In many cases, just getting the customer to go through their own process will help them realize some of the shortcomings or inefficiencies they are experiencing. It’s at this point that the seller helps the customer decide whether to change the process or update their current process. This might include choosing a product that the seller doesn’t even provide.  

Conclusion

The Technology Partnership Approach is based on selling the relationship more than just a product. Even if the customer doesn’t buy something from you in that instance, you’ve helped them make the right decision and started your business relationship on a positive and honest basis. That relationship will bring you closer to the customer and will make purchasing technology a more pleasant experience for both sides. Contact us to experience the Technology Partnership with NetWork Center, Inc. and start building your relationship today.


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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

Solution Selling vs. Product Selling

Posted by Jon Ryan on Mar 10, 2014 5:00:00 PM

solution sellingIn today’s world of online purchasing, you have to ask yourself what you are getting by purchasing equipment and services through a local company versus the internet.  Some internet companies contract out regional support technicians to support their products at discount level pricing, but even though you may be purchasing the equipment what you’re really missing is the Solution.  Let’s take a minute to break down the difference between buying product and buying a solution.

The Product Approach

“We need a new server, because ours is old and slow.  I bet we can buy an affordable one through an online store.”  So at this point we are going to concentrate on the focus of where the “need’ is.  Their server is old and slow so it’s a good assumption that the need is to buy a newer server that makes it perform faster.  While there is a need for newer faster hardware, understanding what is really driving that need is more important than the hardware.  In this case, the business purchases a newer faster server online and implements it into their infrastructure.  There is some performance improvement but overall not the performance they are looking for.

This scenario shows the lack of finding the “need” before making an infrastructure change.  It’s at this point that they will need to re-assess their initial thought of replacing hardware versus finding the real need.  In technician land, we call this “throwing hardware at it” to see if it will fix it.  It’s a reference to the practice of “If you throw enough hardware at an issue, the issue will disappear”, and it is not a recommended practice.

This doesn’t always happened for online purchases.  Technology companies can be guilty of it too.  We can relate it to taking your car to a less than ideal repair shop.  You tell him you think you need new brakes, so he replaces your brakes, no questions (or troubleshooting) asked.  Likewise, if an IT technician hears about an issue from an end user and without troubleshooting or asking more questions, the technician comes up with a fix for it.

The Solution Approach

Let’s take the previous example and see how it relates to a Solution approach.  This same company calls up their technology solution provider. “We need a new server, because ours is old and slow“.  Instead of saying “That’s great, we sell servers.  Here is a quote for a new one”, your technology provider would ask questions such as:

solution selling in technology“How do you use your server?  What is its purpose?  What kind of slowness are you experiencing? How many users do you have? What kind of data are you accessing on your server? Can you tell me about your network?” 

Questions like this can help you really focus on what they are trying to accomplish as a company.  You can find the real need, and even identify efficiencies that can bring more value than only new hardware.  It’s possible the company may still need to buy a new server, but there is also a chance that this extra exploration into their infrastructure can show areas with other technology needs. 

Backups, disaster recovery, redundancy, high availability, and hosted or online options are many times overlooked when you just “throw hardware” at an issue to resolve it.  This is where the expertise and experience of your technology provider is critical.  Do they have the staff that focuses more on the issue as it relates to solution and need?  Or do they merely send you a quote, or replace your brakes, without even asking the right questions.

NetWork Center, Inc. prides ourselves on solution based selling.  We will help you find the area of need that drives the best solution to make your company highly competitive and successful.  Contact one of our solution experts today at NetWork Center, Inc. 

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc.

The DRs of Business Continuity

Posted by Jon Ryan on Jan 3, 2014 4:15:00 PM

Cloud BackupIn the ever changing technology of the digital world, company data has become one of the most important parts of a successful business.  Not only the retention of data but also having reliable access to it. Imagine this scenario: Your business has multiple locations in the Mid-West that access data from a core location. A power grid goes offline due to iced up lines. How does that affect all locations? Are you prepared for this today? Or do you just plan to react to it when it happens? Take into account this scenario: Suddenly you are unable to access your data on your server. With the recent growth of RansomWare (where your data is held hostage by hackers) are you protected, and how do you continue to do business? Or even in the case of everyday hardware failure, are you backing up your data, and if so, what level of redundancy do you have to be able to access it?

It is easy for a business to have a false sense of security when it comes to their data. Having a firewall or anti-virus program is not enough protection from everyday threats. It is absolutely imperative to have a Data Backup & Recovery and Disaster Recovery plan to ensure the highest level of protection. Two of the DR’s of business continuity. Let’s take a look at what Disaster Recovery and Data Recovery really are.

Data Recovery

Probably the most common form of business continuity practiced, Data Backup and Recovery is the most affordable way to protect your business from a catastrophic event. But many people don’t truly understand that there is more to just backing up data than copying it to a network share.

In a typical Data Backup and Recovery solution, the best practice is to write the backups to a local device such as a NAS or External Hard Drive. These backups allow you to take advantage of two levels of protection: server drive RAID failure protection; and local file recovery from an external source. In this example if your server were to crash you would still be able to recover files from a second source.

Any type of backup is better than having nothing, but to achieve a higher level of business continuity you should also have a Disaster Recovery plan as well. What if your building experiences a fire, break in, or natural disaster? Your onsite backup will not be enough to continue operating your business at a normal level. That’s where Disaster Recovery comes into play.

Disaster Recovery

“It will never happen to us.” “What is really the likelihood of a tornado hitting our building?” “I have a hard time justifying the additional cost of Data and Disaster Recovery.” All responses to the question of Disaster Recovery protection.

Disaster Recovery allows companies to save data to an offsite location for just that reason. It is a best practice to save data locally for fast recovery and offsite for disaster recovery. The traditional way to achieve this was to copy data to tape drives and store a daily backup offsite. Cloud technology allows you to get rid of the time and security risk of tape drives.  Now that you have a disaster recovery option and a way to store your data locally and offsite, how do you keep your company processing data with no interruptions in the event you are unable to access your data? 

Data Replication

Data ReplicationIn the ice storm scenario above we discussed multiple locations accessing data from a core business location. If one of the external locations goes down, that location alone is only affected. But if your core server location goes down, all external locations are unable to access the core server data and applications.  The only way to achieve high availability of your data is to replicate it to a second location. 

Data and Compute Replication is a technology that allows you to make a copy of your core server data and applications and place it on hardware at a second site. The second site is usually the site with the best network connectivity the furthest away from the core site. With failover technologies, if the core server goes down, the system automatically fails over to the DR site.  This allows all other locations to continue to access data and applications while the core site recovers from the event. This solution can also act as your Disaster Recovery Data Solution but would also want to be tied to a separate local Data Backup solution for faster file recovery in the event of lost data. 

Conclusion

Now that we’ve given you some ideas and options to improve your business continuity, where do you go from here? A data backup and recovery assessment might be necessary to review your current solution to determine which of the three DR’s you have or need. Contact us to discuss your infrastructure and business continuity plan to see where you stand.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Data Backup, Disaster Recovery, Cloud backups, Business Continuity

Top 10 Reasons to Attend nVision 2013 Technology Conference

Posted by Jon Ryan on Nov 25, 2013 5:03:00 PM

nVision 2013 technology conferenceIf you haven’t decided whether or not you’re attending our nVision Technology Conference this year, here are 10 reasons why you should:

#1 Discuss "Future of Technology"

Meet other IT leaders and business owners from the area and learn more about the Future of Technology. Find out how they have leveraged new technology in order to prepare for the future.

#2 Keynote Speakers from the area’s Top IT Leaders

Attend keynote sessions from 3 of the area’s top companies through the eyes of their IT Leaders. Is your company on the same track for success?

#3 Learn about Next Generation Network Security

Learn about current and future network security trends, and what new technologies are on the horizon to secure your network.

#4 Get Inside the Mind of a Hacker

Find out why hackers target business and how you can protect your intellectual property and other corporate assets. Discover what hackers want, how to keep them out, where they come from, what motivates them and what your best defenses are against them.

#5 Lost in the Cloud?

Get the real information about cloud services and see what’s right for you. Join us to learn more about what “the cloud” means, how our customers are using it, and the decisions that drove them to leveraging the cloud for their business.

#6 Heard of CryptoLocker?

It’s here and hitting companies left and right. Find out what you can do to protect yourself from the data crippling CryptoLocker, the latest in Ransomware.

#7 HIPAA and IT

Are you in compliance? Compliance with government regulations is a priority for healthcare, financial and government organizations. Find out what’s important and what it takes to keep you in compliance.

#8 Mobility 101 - What you Need to Know

Are you managing your mobile task force of devices? Learn how to keep control of your company data when it leaves your office through mobile devices.  

#9 B2B Communication in a Mobile World

It’s not just about checking your email remotely anymore. Now it’s about running an Enterprise level business from the palm of your hand. Find out how to maximize your productivity through mobility.

#10 Network with other Regional Companies

nVision provides a great atmosphere to discuss current topics and technologies with other business people in the area. Meet new people and make connections with other companies from the area.

Experience the excitement and networking opportunities as industry leaders talk about the future of technology and what it means for your business at the 2013 nVision Technology Conference! Register today by click on the register button below. 

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Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Mobility, technology training, Cloud computing

New ERP Solutions to Take Your Company to the Next Level

Posted by Jon Ryan on Nov 15, 2013 4:50:00 PM

manufacturing2Many companies in today’s corporate world of manufacturing have been operating on the same business management and manufacturing software for many years. What does that mean exactly? Is that proof of the traditional bulletproof systems of the past? Or are we seeing companies that become too content with their management solutions? Let’s take a look into the past to understand where we need to be at the present. 

The Past

First of all, what is ERP? Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is business management software that allows an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage their business. ERP software integrates all facets of an operation, including product planning, development, manufacturing processes, sales and marketing. 

We’ve all seen this before, ordering inventory out of one system while billing the customer from another and using yet a third system to manage your manufacturing schedule. “All Inclusive” solutions to cover all of these tasks were not readily available in earlier version of ERP solution software. Many solution providers of the past concentrated their software on one major component of the ERP process. That limited the amount of offerings from each manufacturer, forcing companies to purchase multiple solutions from multiple vendors. This isn’t all bad though, it’s like buying specialty software for every level of your resource planning system. The drawbacks however include working with multiple vendors, trying to stay up to date on software updates, and compatibility issues when trying to implement or intermingle newer technology. 

The Present

The decisions you make today may have changed since you’ve implemented your ERP solution from the past. Your customers have changed, your employees have changed, and the rest of the industry has progressed in technology, so undoubtedly your manufacturing process will eventually need to change.  It’s easy for a company to confuse increasing their through-put with staying up to speed with their manufacturing process. So what does a modern ERP solution give you that you aren’t getting from your old solution? The biggest benefit of a modern solution is “Efficiency”. Jumping back and forth from program to program, introducing more points of data entry, and increasing your margin of error. Using paper copies of orders and manually scheduling materials and resources. With modern ERP solutions, you have a single interface. Materials can be automatically managed in the system to be driven by customer orders, inventory, and resources. Then you have to look at the life cycle of your ERP solution.  If you’ve had it implemented for 10+ years already, how much longer can it be supported? As businesses start to broaden their ERP requirements and start looking at full service solutions, what’s the stability and longevity of the specialized ERP solution software from your current provider? 

The Future

Most ERP solutions are created in module format. You can implement the entire solution at once or piece by piece to ensure a smooth transition. This module-based design allows you to expand your efficiencies over time as well as keep building on the same system you are familiar with. Ask yourself about your current solution. As your requirements change, how flexible is your ERP solution?  Pick a solution that will be supported for years to come. Look for a solution that has a strong backbone of software like Microsoft Dynamics. Many ERP solution providers develop software that sits on the Dynamics framework and tailors it for a custom industry (i.e. food and beverage, pharmaceutical, etc.). 

ERP Solutions SoftwareKey Benefits

  • More Accurate Order Fulfillment

  • Less Billing Issues to Investigate

  • Easier and More Accurate Reporting

  • Lower Learning Cure to Increase User Roles

  • Higher Productivity from Your Employees


To Host or Not To Host?

Many ERP solutions are offered as both a hosted solution, where your entire ERP solution sits on the solution provider’s servers, or as an in house solution residing on your own hardware. While hosted solutions are becoming more popular, in house solutions are still faster for moving large amounts of data. You’ll need to make sure your network infrastructure can also support large amounts of data being transferred back and forth to a hosted solution. For mobility, hosted solutions are often easier to access outside of the company for remote management. While some solution providers have created mobile apps for ERP, you’ll need to ask yourself what is more important, mobility or speed.  

Conclusion

No matter what your current ERP solution is, even though it may be battle tested, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the inefficiencies?

  • What obstacles do you face in the manufacturing process, and are they caused by an outdated solution?

  • What is the overall business impact of those obstacles and inefficiencies?

  • Are there any data security concerns with your older system?

  • Where do you want to be with your ERP process, and will a modern solution get you there?  

To find out more about ERP solutions, discuss the future of your ERP solution, or have a network and server assessment performed on your current infrastructure, contact NetWork Center, Inc. 

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Managed Services, Network Assessment

Enhancing the Customer Experience with Project Management

Posted by Jon Ryan on Aug 19, 2013 9:38:00 AM

technology project managementChanging your IT environment is an exciting experience for any company. However, it can also become a time of negative business impact and unpredictable risk. With multiple variables involved in implementing new technology into your environment, having an extensive plan for installation is critical.  Project Management lays the framework to keep the installation on time and within budget. Taking out a great deal of risk and threat of financial over-spending.

Let’s break it down from the beginning. A sales associate is working with the customer and engages his engineers to assess the situation and design a solution. When designing the solution for the customer, an installation plan needs to be created. This is where the project management begins. The installation plan is typically created in the form of an SOW (Scope of Work) or Project Scope. Based on the complexity of the scope a decision needs to be made. In smaller short term installations the engineer or sales associate can manage the installation. However, with longer term installations, a Project Manager can be engaged. So let’s say this is an install that needs a Project Manager to lead the installation and begin putting together a Project Plan.

The core components of a good Project Plan include; scope of work creation; scheduling; timeline and milestone documentation; budget awareness; progress updates (email or conference calls); strong documentation including change control documentation; and post completion review. While documentation is critical for the success, communication is the most important component to a successful project. Customers feel more comfortable with changes or delays as long as they are aware of them. With planning and close management, the possibility of delays or inaccuracies are reduced greatly.

project management success graphThere are many advantages of having a Project Manager versus trying to manage a project using various departments.

  1. Better Efficiency in Delivering Services: Project management provides a “roadmap” that is easily followed and leads to accurate project completion. Minimizing additional labor and time to complete a project.
  2. Increased Customer Satisfaction: Anytime you get a project done on time and under budget, the client walks away happy.
  3. Enhanced Effectiveness in Delivering Services: The same strategies that allowed you to successfully complete one project will serve as a blueprint for future projects.
  4. Improved Growth and Development Within your Team: Positive results encourage team members to embrace and leverage the project management process, building success for years to come.
  5. Greater Standing and Competitive Edge: Set yourself apart from your competitors not only on a deliverables standpoint but for the customer as well. Customers gain a competitive edge with more efficient installation of new technology.
  6. Opportunities to expand your Services: Offer more to your customers by selling products you normally wouldn’t be able to manage the installation of due to complexities in implementation.
  7. Better Flexibility: Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of project management is that it allows for flexibility. As a project changes, the use of change requests allows you to manage labor, time and cost while keeping the customer up to date through the entire process.
  8. Increased Risk Assessment: Having all aspects of a project monitored by a Project Manager allows you to address all sides of installation. This allows you to accurately predict issues and assess levels of risk.
  9. Increase in Quality: As project flow becomes more efficient, the quality of service you can offer your customers increases. Less time is spent correcting mistakes in the installation process.
  10. Increase in Quantity: Faster and more efficient project completion leads to more free time to do more installs.

Project management is being requested by more customers every day. In some cases the management of a project is just as important as the solution itself. If you are making a change to your IT infrastructure and want to experience the benefits of Project Management, you can find out more by contacting NetWork Center, Inc.

Contact NetWork Center, Inc.

Topics: Technology Solutions, NetWork Center Inc., Managed Services

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