Working from home requirements

With the move to home working in recent weeks we’ve seen quite a few new types of working from home requirements and also, sorry to say, that old bugbear cyber security is raising its unwelcome head in new ways. I thought it would be helpful to share some of these.

  • Microsoft Teams – many businesses are getting to grips with video meetings, sometimes for the first time. If you need some help with getting setup on Teams and how it works just let us know. It’s a great tool for keeping in face-to-face contact and integrates with your Microsoft calendar too. Zoom is also a great tool, and there is a plugin for Outlook to help integrate it with your calendars too.
  • Productivity Monitoring software – if it’s important to your business to measure staff productivity and effectiveness, it can be very difficult with staff forced to work from home. Productivity monitoring software provides the solution to this, and we have installed it for several businesses. If you think it may be useful for your business please let us know.
  • I was speaking with one of our customers recently, and he was a bit fed-up with working on his laptop. He was delighted when I pointed out you can attach an external monitor, mouse and keyboard (the latter two wirelessly if you like) and the laptop becomes a second monitor. As someone who battles back problems I know only too well that hunching over a laptop is about the worst thing I can be doing. Do let us know if you would like external equipment for your staff working from laptops at home.
  • Cyber – we have seen two hacks in recent days resulting from people working from personal devices which did not have the same protections as their work devices. Just a reminder that your email and network become exponentially more vulnerable with each additional device attached. If a personal device does not have the same security software as the standard company software, you are open to a local and possibly company-wide breach. It’s worth reviewing/updating your Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies with so many people working from home. Let me know if you would like some advice on this, we have some standard policy templates available.

If you would like any advice or support on working-from-home arrangements and requirements, managing geographically-dispersed teams, or IT in general in these challenging times, just let us know.

What is high-tech?

Working in the digital, cyber and IT sector I tend to think of high-technology in computing/electronic terms. Unsurprising I suppose, and I imagine that when most people think of high-tech then this is what they would be drawn to. But is the digital sector the only high-tech sector?

A few months ago I was fortunate to have a guided tour of a plant growing facility in North Yorkshire. The tour was part of helping us understand their business before building their new website. I was struck by the level of science and technology that is applied to an industry that, from a layman’s perspective at least, doesn’t appear to be high-tech at all.

On an ongoing basis they have:

  • Soil imports from Lithuania – apparently it is the highest quality soil available across Europe (who knew?!)
  • A temperature-controlled system for cultivating specific plants
  • Light controls for growing plants across different seasons

plus much more. (As an aside they used to work on the basis of four seasons, but no longer – climate change has created what is effectively a single season for them. But that’s a matter for another blog.)

More recently I watched a documentary on the manufacture of tins (yes I know this doesn’t say much for my social life). Specifically tins for food and drink storage – peas, fizzy drinks etc.

Is a tin high-tech? Well, I’d never thought about it before, but once I did the answer is ‘of course’. It’s absolutely astonishing that we can put food-stuff into a sealed tin and preserve it for years. Apparently the key is down to the coating used on the interior of the tin. Moreover, the coatings aren’t ‘one-size fits all’ – specific coatings are required depending on the contents of the tin. This is because different contents can react (chemically) differently to the coatings (you don’t want them to react at all).

Going further back, I recall my ten years spent at Rolls-Royce. They are a hugely diversified power generation company, yet their core business – jet engines – remains the same. The level of R&D, design, material science and testing that goes into building a jet engine is astonishing. Did you know they ‘grow’ the turbine blades from a single crystal for example? HIgh-tech? For sure.

So, next time you look at your Apple Watch or Android phone, maybe spare a moment for the high technology industries. They’re hiding in plain sight.

Feel free to share your own examples of high tech in the comments!

high-tech
What really is high-tech?

How Did Jack Daniels Do It?

Jack Daniels

Happy New Year!

Jack Daniels Sign
Jack Daniels Sign

During the festive break, I was fortunate enough to visit the Jack Daniels Whiskey Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I took a guided tour and it was both fascinating and enjoyable; unfortunately, I was driving so I had to forego the tasting sessions at the end…

I always enjoy finding out how other companies do things, no matter how disparate they may be to the IT and website business. For Jack Daniels I think there were two particularly interesting highlights:

1) Whiskey is relatively commoditised – anyone can make it. How did a small distiller in mid-South Tennessee build a global brand that is now one of the most recognized and popular in the world? There are numerous reasons for this, but the primary one is genuineness.

  • The brand has always remained true to its values – a specific recipe with high-quality ingredients. During World War Two, when high-quality grain was at a premium and being diverted to the war effort, the company refused to compromise on quality, and cut back production rather than use inferior ingredients.
  • They were undoubtedly helped by word-of-mouth marketing – Frank Sinatra (if you don’t know who he is Google him!) took a sip of JD before every concert and carried a bottle with him when touring. When he died and per his Will, he was even buried with a bottle!

2) Ensuring the commitment to quality was – and is – instilled in every worker. There are signs everywhere in the facility which state very simply ‘Every day we make it, we’ll make it the best we can’.

I couldn’t come up with a better statement of intent than that. In 2020, I’ve asked everyone in our Group of Companies to ensure that every single ticket, prospect and customer support request is dealt with as best we possibly can.

Have a great 2020 everybody.

Every day we make it
‘Every day we make it’ – Jack Daniels

The Importance of SOPs in Information Technology

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) first came into common business parlance and usage in the manufacturing industry post-World War II.

Simply put, an SOP is “a set of written guidelines or instructions for the completion of a routine task, designed to increase performance, improve efficiency, and ensure quality through systemic homogenization”*.

So manufacturers set about writing procedures, training their workforce in following them and then monitoring the same to ensure procedures were followed consistently. This brought huge benefits to manufacturers, including:

· Consistency of production – by following the same procedure every product and component would be the same. This brings huge benefits in terms of quality control, reduction in defects and therefore customer satisfaction

· Improved efficiency – no need to try and figure out how to do something – staff are trained on the procedure and then follow it. Eliminating guesswork streamlines processes and makes production faster

· Continuous improvement. With a procedure in place, consistently adhered to, it’s much easier to improve on it. If everyone ‘does there own thing’ best practice is almost impossible to determine. With a standard procedure and a feedback-culture in the workforce, it’s possible to improve procedures and processes continuously.

McDonald’s famously adopted an SOP approach to ensure consistency of food production and service. As a result, a Big Mac in New York looks and tastes the same as one served in Tokyo. This doesn’t mean the menus don’t also reflect local tastes – you can order a Teriyaki burger in Japan – but consistency remains key.

The McDonald's SOP approach
How McDonald’s has approached SOPs

 

So what does this have to do with Information Technology and IT support for customers? Well, I’ve found that as our business has expanded so too has the need for consistency. As a start-up 11 years ago (in the British Virgin Islands) there was pretty much nothing written down – we were focused on building the business. Then as we grew and we recruited technicians, it was possible to explain procedures to them individually and advise them on an ongoing basis. With a co-located handful of staff, this was entirely possible and also made ongoing improvement communications possible too.

Then we expanded and acquired a company in England (CCS2000). We now had a choice – allow the businesses to operate autonomously and ‘go their own way’ – or standardise. We chose the latter route for several reasons:

· We wanted to ensure best practice could be shared across the companies

· First-class IT management requires the same expertise, training and knowledge no matter where you operate

· We wanted technicians on either side of the Atlantic to be able to provide support to customers no matter where they (the customers) were located

· We wanted to adopt a proactive-support model that minimised client IT issues – to move away comprehensively from the ‘Break-Fix’ approach which (to my astonishment) is still prevalent in the industry.

In adopting this approach we were also mindful of the need for flexibility of approach on a local basis (as for the McDonalds teriyaki burger example). This meant we needed to adopt a dual approach:

1.  Operational standardisation – consistency of approach on all IT-related matters. So for example, setting up a new PC for a staff member in one of our customers

2.  Non-standard standardisation – an oxymoron that means ensuring any non-standard requirements for a customer are recorded and written into a procedure accordingly. Customer ABC may require their PCs to have some additional configuration in addition to our standard approach from (1).

So how did (do) we do this? Well, by the adoption of SOPs in Information Technology.

SOPs Information Technology
SOPs Information Technology

 

I can tell you from experience, it’s much easier said than done! We have been working on it for several years and it’s fair to say that it will always be an ongoing activity. There’s always a new procedure to write or an existing one to amend or improve upon.

Nonetheless, when we acquired another IT business in England (IDT) in 2019, it was clear that all the hard work had paid off. We were able to standardise working practices in a matter of weeks. Furthermore, we were able to adopt best-practice from within the new business to our existing procedures.

It’s worth noting that it isn’t just a matter of writing (and updating) the SOPs. Underpinning standardisation is the need for:

· Ongoing training – existing staff refreshers, new starters all need to be trained and monitored for process adherence

· Open culture – openness to feedback from the technicians following the procedures is key to continuous improvement. It also has the added benefit of participation which lends itself to a healthy work culture

· Integrating tools – we have the benefit of a bespoke business management system that we have developed ourselves (JIM). This allows us to deploy and monitor SOPs accordingly, with the flexibility to amend our processes thanks to the bespoke nature of our BMS.

It’s been a challenging and fascinating journey to move from ‘start-up in the sun’ to a Trans-Atlantic IT business. No doubt it will continue to be so, but without the adoption of SOPs, I know it would not have been possible.

Adoption of SOPs
Adoption of SOPs

 

How to reduce your reliance on your IT company

Am I crazy? Possibly. Probably! Maybe… Who knows? Who gets to decide anyway?

What am I on about? Well, I’m evangelical about ensuring my businesses educate our customers on all matters IT, so you can actually REDUCE your reliance on your IT company. Logically that means in time they won’t have to spend as much money with my businesses, or they may even be able to drop us completely and do it (IT – geddit?) themselves. Would you like to know how to reduce your reliance on your IT company? Well, keep on reading…..

So let’s consider:

  • We’re providing FREE education on all matters IT to our clients (and everyone if you follow us on social media or this blog)
  • That FREE education reduces client dependence on us
  • Reduced client dependence means reduced fees for my companies
  • In the extreme you may feel that you don’t need us at all!

Simply put, we’re providing free education which may result in reduced income for us.

Yeah, that’s crazy.

Do you think?

Or maybe there’s something else going on? If so, what?

Confidence and trust, that’s what.

We’re confident that by educating our customers and their staff in computing and IT matters we will increase trust. And if we increase trust, they’ll continue their partnership with us.

Let’s face it, there are too many companies in IT who give the industry a bad name. We conducted a market survey last year, and the number one issue that came out was ‘Trust’. People rely on their IT provider to provide them with IT solutions appropriate to their business. Too often those people don’t understand what is being offered and can be left with an uneasy feeling of paying for something they don’t need.

That is absolutely not what any of my businesses are about. The last thing I want is for our customers to feel that way. We want – we need – you to feel assured with your IT solutions. The only way we can do that is through education and trust.

That’s why if you follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) you will see, at least weekly, tips on all matters IT.

That’s why this year we implemented our ‘IT Roadshows’ – we visit all our contracted customers and present to every member of their staff. What we do, why we do it, computer usage tips,  cyber security tips. Free.

That’s why all our staff are instructed to communicate in plain English – to explain any matter IT in a way that the recipient understands. No bamboozlement.

And that’s why all our staff sign-up to our cultural values. You can read them all here.

 

Crazy? If doing what is right for our customers is crazy, then fine, guilty as charged!

Thanks for reading, until next time…

Backing up and protecting your data – the basics

I was asked at a networking meeting recently for recommendations on best practice for backing up a laptop. It was in the context of an individual who has sensitive data on their laptop, and what follows were my recommendations. It’s worth noting that these recommendations apply as much to SMEs as they do to an individual.

  1. We recommend a belt and brace approach. A local backup and a cloud backup. This applies to single-PC/laptop users and companies with servers and networks alike. Local backups protect you from internet accessibility failures (they do happen!) and cloud backup protects you from local failures, and is also an invaluable defence against Ransomware.
  2. Cloud storage is NOT Cloud backup. A professional cloud backup system has end-to-end encryption and provides for a complete system restore. Files in Cloud storage are fully susceptible to ransomware. Find out more here: https://neovault.net/
  3. Anyone who has access to company systems -whether an employee or not, whether local or remote – should be subject to the same IT and security policies as locally-based employees. If you don’t have any IT policies in place, strongly recommend that you do so.
  4. Anti-virus and anti-spam software should be professional, ie paid, versions
  5. Mobile devices carrying personal data – client, employee, supplier etc – are a GDPR risk and need to fall under the company IT policy umbrella
  6. Encrypt the hard drives on your laptops

Hoping this provides some useful guidance!