The Hype around the Cloud

Cloud computing… I just can’t get away from this.  The first time I heard it about a year ago, I literally laughed.  I didn’t understand the difference between Software as a Service (SaaS) and what the industry was calling “cloud computing.”  I remember the day my CEO walked into my office and said “We need to deliver cloud computing to our customers.”  This means so many things.  Even 12 months later I’m trying to figure out exactly what cloud computing is.  Here is my take.

When you access data not stored onsite, you are working in the cloud.  You may decide to create a file server in a virtualized hosting space rather than manage it in house.  This is ideal for a small/medium office who has many remote employees.  The downside is it takes longer than it would if you were connected locally.  Another cloud strategy is storage, archiving and disaster recovery.  It is the most inexpensive option for storing data.  Rather than spending thousands on storage arrays and network attached storage, you can store your backups in the cloud for less than $1 GB.

The “cloud” space is growing with start-ups as there is little barriers of entry.  The main players like Microsoft’s SkyDrive, HP’s Upline and Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3), have been working on this strategy for a few years.  Rackspace recently acquired Slicehost and Jungle Disk to jump start their cloud strategy.  Since there are so many options, do your research.  Make sure they have service level agreements for uptime and don’t use a consumer-grade cloud provider for enterprise needs.

I believe this will take off.  Virtualization never really hit the SMB space but this newer concept of cloud computing will.  It will lower the overhead for hardware and bring enterprise level solutions like business continuity to SMBs.  We need to learn how to work with these solutions.  Again… it comes down to being a client’s trusted adviser.  That relationship will not go away as various technologies will.  The good news is the cloud will continue to bring monthly recurring revenue and predictability is key in growing a strong business.

You can learn more about this at businessinnovation.cmp.com.

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Expert vs. Trusted Advisor

I read a great article today from a newsletter.  It really helped me understand the difference of a trusted advisor from an “expert”.  As the economy cycles through these turbulent times, it is important to stay close to your clients and have them see you as part of the strategic team.  Make sure you are aware of your clients strategic goals and how technology can help streamline their business.

Read the below excerpt from “Great Time to Become a Client Advisor” by Phil Verghis the President of The Verghis Group, Inc.

“I recently re-read Clients for Life: Evolving from an Expert-for-Hire to an Extraordinary Adviser by Jagdish Sheth and Andrew Sobel. In it, they interview CEOs and advisors to see what distinguishes a client advisor – an irreplaceable resource – from a tradable commodity like an expert.

•    Experts are specialists; advisors become deep generalists with broad perspective.
•    Experts are for hire; advisors have selfless independence.
•    Experts have professional credibility; advisors have deep personal trust.
•    Experts analyze; advisors synthesize.
•    Experts supply expertise; advisors are educators who provide insight and wisdom.
As we explore the shift from a tiered model of support to a Savvy Support model, one of the key attributes will be a transition from frontline staff being break-fix experts to valued advisors. Under Savvy Support, routine/ simple/ known issues are taken care of either by eliminating the problem in the first place or solving the issues via self service. This approach frees the support staff to handle more difficult, unknown problems. The more they focus on resolving these, the more likely they are to become client advisors.

There you have it: how to move from being “hired hands” to “client advisors.” The faster you make the change, the more your clients will trust you and call on you — in good times and bad.”

Opportunity in Uncertain Times

Don’t be Chicken Little and look for the worst in things.  The economy is going through a shift and the market is unstable.  Small businesses still need technology and they need smart solutions to streamline their business more than ever.  This is a true opportunity for those of us in this industry.  It is a great time to GROW our small business.

Although there is a great opportunity for new business, it is important to be conservative and SMART.  Watch your money and pay attention to the things you spend it on.  CMIT held a wonderful Town Hall meeting with all of our franchise partners today.  Jeff Connally covered some great tips on success in uncertain times.  His points were dead on and many were repeated in two good articles I read today.

First, VAR magazine highlights some ideas for how VARs can beat the recession.  Some of the key points are summarized below:

  1. Take this opportunity to HIRE new staff.  There will be some good labor looking for work so snatch them up for fresh ideas.
  2. Sell on ROI and don’t under value your services.  A dollar saved is a dollar made (something Joe Williamson has been saying).  It is true that companies are looking for ways to cut so sell them on the value of outsourcing IT to save money.  I could write on this topic all day but you get the picture.
  3. Review the industries you target.  Health care, public safety, education and government have a budget to spend so maybe you need to refocus who you are marketing too.
  4. Increase your marketing as it more important then ever to keep marketing.  Many people cut back since they are uncertain how much money they will have over the next few months.  This is the worst thing you can do b/c rebuilding the momentum will take several months.  IT services are still needed so don’t stop marketing – this includes networking events.

The article covered 10 tips so I suggest you take a look.

The second article is a blog from Karl Palachuk on how to make money by being better organized.  He provides some common sense examples on how to protect yourself and not let client’s run all over you.  Some examples he gives are to keep track of all your time and get invoices out on a regular schedule.  If you wait, you tend to forget and your time is valuable.  Don’t think that not billing for everything is being a nice guy.  It isn’t; instead, it is just being a stupid business person.  Charge clients late fees and invoice a net 30 policy (I would say it should be a net 10).  Make sure you track your money in a tool like Quickbooks and stay organized.  It will PAY off.

Good luck and good selling.  Make these uncertain times a great opportunity to grow your business!

Most Profitable (Recession-Proof) Products

Since I was on maternity leave in Aug/Sept, I’m behind on some of my readings.  I found a great article from Channel Insider dated 9/23/08.  We are in a good space to be servicing technology as the economic slow down (or crisis if you want to see it that way) will not drastically affect the services we provide.  This article looks at the top 10 technologies that remain high in demand and produce healthy profits.

10. Point of Sales/Commerce Applications – Go Quickbooks – The CMIT family has many certified QB POS technicians so reach out and keep the business in the family.

9.  Network Infrastructure – as Sun Microsystems said “The network is the computer.”  Small Business owners need network connectivity more than ever and we will continue to deliver.

8.  Application Development – SharePoint anyone???  My expectation is that SharePoint development will take off this year and really help the small business.

7.  Enterprise Application – SMBs are realizing that the cheap open source products they started using don’t cut it.  They are now looking to pay for feature-rich and dynamic applications that help optimize business performance.

6.  Storage Solutions – I believe storage virtualization will grow in 2009 and beyond.  For now, leverage CMIT’s great prices with Dell or a managed hosted server through our partnership at Rackspace.

5.  Business Intelligence Software – There is an opportunity for software sales but most importantly, professional services opportunities which means longer engagements and higher margins!

4.  Mobility Solutions – Small Business owners will begin to make the entire office mobile so solutions for security and management will be on the rise.

3.  Managed Services – Channel Insider describes it as “white hot”.  CMIT was one of the first solution providers to start selling managed services in Q4 of 2006.  Less than 2 short years we have realized what a game changer it is for our industry.  Dell and other big players will help educate the market that proactive management is a MUST.  CMIT Marathon will continue to be a hot seller!

2.  Software as a Service (SaaS) – The ease of management and upgrades will keep this on the top of the list.  CMIT will continue to provide solutions like CMIT Anti-spam that make SaaS a key part of our services.

1.  Security – We were right about launching CMIT Guardian as our next product line.  This solution keeps the small business protected with an onsite and offsite backup strategy.  With a 2008 profitability rating of 31%, there is no better time than to promote CMIT Guardian.

What a good article!  Click here to view it for yourself.

SMB Nation

I attended SMB Nation this past weekend, 10/3 – 10/6.  I really learned a lot and enjoyed the experience.  CMIT had a booth to represent how we can help independent solution providers grow by becoming part of the CMIT family.  CMIT of Denver, Debi and Phil Bush, were there as well so I was able to catch up on how their business is doing.  We have reached the critical mass to now be pursued by vendors.  They want to partner with CMIT so it is my job to make sure they are a good fit and negotiate wonderful support and pricing.  SMB Nation made me realize how many vendors are marketing to the small business space.  I think there were over 10 backup and disaster recovery solutions represented.

I attended a pre-day event with Karl Palachuk and Erick Simpson on IT Best Practices.  I also bought Erick’s newest book on Best Practices for Service Delivery.  I plan to use as much of this information as possible to help the CMIT system document service delivery.  I want to create Autotask projects for this information.  I’m excited to get this completed as I know it will help the system, especially new franchise partners.

Karl presented information on tracking your goals and balancing your life.  It was good information as I’m sure all of us could do a better job of working less and accomplishing more.  Some of the key tips were to work in real time, don’t be interrupt driven, and ALWAYS work off of a service request.  This is key for the CMIT partners to use Autotask and have their clients enter tickets via client access.

Erick presented information about marketing and service delivery.  Most of the marketing information was similar to what we currently do.  He talked about the importance of newsletters and direct mail.  The service delivery part was quick as he covered 13 slides in about 13 minutes.  The key points were to raise your rates yearly, take advantage of a NOC and helpdesk, and invoice break/fix work every week.  I’m looking forward to getting his book – it was a pre-order purchase so maybe another week or two.

Then it was off to a 3 day conference and I really enjoyed it.  I’m trying to get some of the slides from a few of the sessions as I believe others would enjoy reviewing them.  The main topics were SaaS, SharePoint, Autotask and Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).  Autotask users should check out the Autotask community to learn more about the new features coming soon.  They are really really cool and will allow us to work with even larger clients.  I am really excited about it.  All these changes with SaaS adoption and cloud computing are changing the IT landscape.  It is important to become the trusted advisor and stay current on new technology.  IT Solution Providers are no longer break/fix techies with a cell phone, they are now consultants advising small business owners on how to leverage technology to save money and make the office more productive.

How I plan to use this Blog?

I am Melanie Fricke, VP of Product and Process Strategy at CMIT.  I plan to use this category of the blog to discuss recent industry news I’ve seen.  I attend industry events, read IT related magazines, blogs and articles and never know what to do with my findings.  I guess you would say I’m late to the game when it comes to blogging but our SEO consultant suggested I get started.  Please be patient since this is new for me.  Feel free to let me know if you have suggestions or comments and please blog back.  A one sided blog is just a bulletin board and that is not how I want to use this.

I want my posts to be informative and hopefully spark some controversy.  There are many ways to view the latest trends so please tell me yours.  Let me know when you think I missed the boat.  My promise to you is that if this blog is getting read, I will keep it updated!

Webinar Review – Enabling Today’s Key IT Challenges

I listened to a great webinar hosted by Ziff Davis and Dell today.  You can hear the recording at eSeminarsLive.  Michael Vizard, SVP, Editorial Director from Ziff Davis provided the top key IT challenges we face today.  Here are the highlights as I see them.

  1. Vista migration is still a concern but needs to be overcome.  Waiting for Windows 7 will not help much since it is based on the Vista platform.  There are very few compatibility concerns now and the integrated network design has much better security over XP.  Also, there is a learning curve so end-user training is needed.  CMIT clients should be added to our help desk to answer end-user questions!
  2. Utility Computing is coming!  My understanding is that you have the buzz word, Utility Computing as the main header.  Cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) are buckets under this umbrella.  Cloud Computing is hosting hardware to make the environment more dynamic.  Software as a Service (SaaS) is the software applications that are hosted in the cloud.  You are already seeing SaaS getting adopted but hardware virtualization and managed hosting of hardware will become more and more common.  I would expect to see a hybrid of on premise and cloud computing happening now with more hardware virtualization options growing over the next 12 to 36 months.  SaaS has a shorter roll-out period with no in-house maintenance.  This has caused adoption to grow and will continue as security concerns are addressed.  Small businesses use SaaS primarily for email, web conferencing, e-commerce and professional services automation.  The ability to pay as you go and use it from anywhere will keep SaaS on the top of the list in 2009.
  3. Security remains a top concern and IT challenge.  Compliance continues to drive more spending in this area but it is hard to keep up.  The economic slow down will cause more regulations so CMIT needs to continue to advance this service offering.  I see professional service fees being spent in this area to document security practices.  CMIT Guardian will protect the small business data but consulting practices needs to be added to the Guardian package.
  4. There is an IT skill shortage.  Many technicians cannot keep up with current technologies.  CMIT Marathon really adds value by outsourcing the necessary but tedious tasks like anti-virus updating and asset management.
  5. Green IT is a growing request from small businesses.  It is more about cost savings than the environment.  Energy is the main expense for IT which is why companies are seriously looking at Cloud Computing.  CMIT already helps with Green IT by provisioning about 75% of issue resolution remotely.  CMIT could also help small business recycle their hardware and consolidate their servers.  What do you think about a packaged offering for Green IT?  This would include services for paper recycling, equipment recycling, server consolidation and virtualization.  Thoughts?
  6. Business Process Improvement (BPI) is what every small business is looks for, especially with the economic crisis we face today.  It is important for IT to be at the strategic meetings.  IT goals and planning should align with the overall business goals.  CMIT Marathon frees up time, resources and money so that more IT resources can be spend planning for future growth.

Then Dean Wade, Sr. Prod Manager from Dell Global Services spoke on Dell’s Modular Services Offering.  He only spoke about Desktop services.  First off, why is Dell calling it modular services?  You would think their marketers could have come up with something that indicates proactive management to keep desktops maintained and running… something like Marathon branding perhaps.  In the Q&A section of the webinar, he said that they have been offering these services for years and can be added to any desktop purchase today.  He also said that they target businesses with 5 to 10,000 users.  Wow! That is a range if I ever saw one.  So the good news is that Dell is getting the message out that businesses need to be using managed services to streamline business.  CMIT will be there to provide the local relationship and hands-on advice.

A good white paper on this topic can be found at event.on24.com.