Browsing Posts in General Biz

The Road to Character, by David Brooks

Ok, here’s my second book review.  Last month I described a book about the Treaty of Versailles.  This month I switched over to a book I first heard about on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show back in April.

The concept is an interesting one.  Brooks talks about our fixation on what he calls our “resume virtues.”  These are things that help us on the wallet side of things.  Better jobs, more money and additional status.  But we tend to ignore what he calls our “eulogy virtues.”  These are the attributes that form a more inner character.  Kindness, honesty and the like.

The first chapter is a great introduction to Brooks’ core concepts.  He describes some of the changes that he sees in terms of American Society since the 40’s.  The priority was more on belonging, contributing to society and the like.

To be clear, Brooks is not saying they were better.  There were numerous comparisons to “the old ways” where we’ve clearly improved (race and gender being a couple of obvious ones).

But he makes the case (with some justification) that we’re collectively and individually missing something.  And Brooks breaks down several examples of individuals who lived their lives focusing on developing as much (or more) “eulogy virtues” versus “resume virtues.”  Examples include Dwight D. Eisenhower, and English writer Samuel Johnson.

The core lessons of the book are great.  Some of the individual examples are better than others.  But overall a worthwhile book.

 

Ask a Business Management person “How’s Business?” and you’ll probably get an answer that’s full of anecdotal terms.  ”Not bad,” “Great!” and the like.  Of course, if you don’t measure it, you can’t control or manage it.  With all the metrics that we can measure, it gets easy to be completely overwhelmed.  So it’s important to choose what specific metrics make up the majority of the definition of health for the organization (KPI’s).  Here’s some more information about KPI’s.

Although the idea of the project-based ERP system may not be for everybody, consider implementing some methods of measure your KPI’s, and keep your eyes on them!

 

This article excerpt, by Brian Lamee, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1DTQ6A5
In today’s highly competitive market, accounting firms need a way to compare themselves to their past performance, and that of similar companies, as a barometer of achievement.
Successful firms use a common set of strategic and operational key performance indicators, or KPIs, to accomplish this goal. KPIs can include any number of metrics useful to your firm, including billings by client, revenue growth, contribution rate, utilization rate, realization, deal close ratio, customer lifetime value and more.
But the effectiveness of your chosen KPIs depends on your firm’s ability to capture and access related data.
Can you easily access project-specific metrics like days sales outstanding and project schedule variance?
Are you able to quickly view how much billable work remains incomplete? And do you know how much time passes between invoicing and payment?
In a word, you need insight. Enterprise resource planning software can help.
A project-based ERP system allows you to both create and measure your firm’s KPIs by producing consistent, measurable data that can be matched to individual projects. With the ability to take information from every project, ERP software allows for full transparency and more accurate reporting through a central repository.
Using an ERP system, it becomes important to make sure your KPIs are realistic and built around real, measurable data. Make sure your project managers set realistic and achievable targets for the talent used on each project, as detailed in “The Ultimate List of the KPIs Every Professional Services Organization Should Measure.”
Having set their own targets, it’s then easy for project managers to create dashboards for people and projects. The result?  Everyone can see and be accountable for his own KPIs, making them effective and easier to manage.
You can use this data to improve in various areas where you may be performing lower than the industry norm. Plus, having a full understanding of your capacity and available resources will leave you well placed to better allocate them. Soon, you’ll find yourself creating new efficiencies by resolving resource allocation issues.
At the end of the day, accurate and timely data is about more than information. It’s the key to boosting efficiency and, therefore, profit. If you aren’t already, it’s time to invest in a project-based ERP system—and start creating your firm’s top KPIs—today.
Brian LaMee is the head of product marketing at Herndon-based Deltek, a global provider of enterprise software and information solutions for professional services firms.

Skype for Business logo

 

Lync is now Skype for Business!

If you’re a Lync user, you may have noticed a change already – Lync is now Skype for Business! Join us on June 11th (see below to RSVP) for our monthly webinar where we’ll talk about Skype for Business and demonstrate some of the collaboration capabilities. We’ll be giving away a free copy of Office 2013 to one lucky winner too!

Skype for Business can be used to increase communication and collaboration in a number of different ways:

Voice Calling (VoIP) – Audio calls are easy in Skype, and you don’t pay for long distance or airtime. And Skype for Business integrates with your previous contacts from Skype, so you’ll have one tool for your business and personal calls.

Video Calls – One-on-one video calls can be much more personal when you can talk face to face, even if it is virtually. With Skype for Business, you can have those discussions and be able to see facial expressions and body language, or just check out your colleague’s new haircut.

Video Conferencing – Similar to the one-on-one video calls, but with more than two people. This is great for bringing teams together with a more personal feel. Who’s wouldn’t prefer to look at their colleague’s instead of staring at a conference speakerphone the whole time?

Screen Sharing – It’s easy to share your screen during a call. Whether you are working on a project with a co-worker and need to share your screen on the fly, or leading a scheduled presentation, Skype for Business makes it easy to share your screen with your participants.  You’ll see Simplex-IT using Skype for Business for our webinars too!

Online Meetings – Integration with Microsoft Office makes creating online meetings easy! In Outlook, instead of creating a “New Meeting” just select “Skype Meeting” instead. A link to the Skype meeting will be created for you in the body of the meeting invitation. From there, it’s the same as creating a meeting. Your recipients can then use the link provided to join the meeting.

Skype for Business

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instant Messaging – For a quick message, who has time for email? The instant messaging capability in Skype for Business makes it easy to send a message to your contacts. It’s also great for back and forth conversation type communication, rather than the one-sided email that’s easy to lose in your Inbox. Conversations are saved in Outlook, so you can go back and reference them at any point, with no email clutter. You can also see your contacts availability, and let other’s know yours. Leaving for the afternoon or on an important assignment and can’t be bothered? Change your status to Off Work or Do Not Disturb to let everyone know. You can create groups, favorites, and much more.

Skype for Business Instant Messaging

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to learn more about Skype for Business and see it in action? Join us for our monthly Office Webinar!

What: Skype for Business
When: Thursday, June 11th 11am – noon EST
Where: Online
Click here to Register!

 

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Managing project risks using Project Online

Did you know that Project Online is more than just project schedules and status reports? Yep, you can manage your project risks there too, and it’s pretty easy. Don’t miss our monthly PM webinar where we’ll talk more about this, details below.

When talking about project risks, oftentimes people will tell me that their project doesn’t have any risks. Or they don’t want to waste time tracking risks, because the project is a “must do” so it doesn’t matter anyway.  I disagree; there are a lot of advantages to tracking project risks, especially in Project Online.

“My project doesn’t have any risks.” Well, that sure would be nice, but every project has some risks associated with it. Let’s take a simple example – moving your offices. Your company has relocated and you are managing the project for the move. What are some risks we should consider?

  • Movers could be delayed/arrive late
  • Damage to equipment
  • Lost files
  • No utilities at new location
  • Injured employees
  • Something might get left behind

 

You might be thinking, “Well, that’s all fine, but we have to move anyway so why bother with risks?” Project Managers know the value of a good plan. “Fail to plan, plan to fail!” By identifying the potential risks in projects, we can now take steps to better manage them. We can add them to our Project Online Risk Repository to increase visibility and keep everyone updated on the status. There’s a lot of information we track when adding and managing risks:

Owner/Assignee The person/people responsible for tracking the risk overall
Status Active, Postponed, Closed
Due Date Sometimes there may be a specific date associated with the risk, sometimes not.
Probability The likelihood that the risk will occur (1%-100%)
Impact The magnitude of the impact should the risk actually happen.
Cost The cost that will be incurred when the risk occurs
Category Custom categories for your organization
Description The likely causes and consequences of the risk
Mitigation Plan Actions to reduce the probability or the impact of the risk
Contingency Plan The plan of action if the risk does occur
Triggers Indicators that the risk has occurred or will occur shortly

Once the risks are identified and all the information is entered in Project Online, you and your team will have one central place for tracking and communicating risks. In the example of moving day, if the movers are delayed, your team knows exactly what to do to keeping moving. Plus, you’ve taken many steps to mitigate any delays, by providing clear instructions and directions, several contact numbers, and completed a walk through before the actual moving day.

And, when you start tracking risks for multiple projects, you can then begin to do some analysis across all projects. Does the same risk occur over and over? Which mitigation plans have been successful? Which contingency plans have failed? You’ll even be able to balance the risks and determine when the best time might be to start a high risk project vs. a low risk project.

Join us on for the free monthly Project Management Webinar (we’ll be giving away a copy of Office Professional 2013 courtesy of Microsoft)!

  • Topic: Managing project risks with Project Online
  • When: June 18th at 2-2:30 (eastern)
  • Where:  Online
  • Click here to Register

We’ll talk more about Risk Management and demonstrate how to enter and track risks in Project Online.  Here’s a sneak peek:

Image of a risk in Project Online

 

 

 

I decided I’m going to try to increase my reading non-IT books.  And I figured the best way would be to share with folks a book each month (yeah, we’ll see how long this lasts).

I just finished Paris 1919:  Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan.  Written back in 2003 it’s an extremely detailed review of the process after World War I that led to the Treaty of Versailles.  This treaty was blamed (the author would argue against) for setting the stage for World War II.  At the very least it most certainly created rather arbitrarily defined countries and borders, especially in the Middle East.

It’s an interesting read.  Especially at a time where it’s easy to read the news today and wonder (whether you’re left or right facing) “how could any politician do such stupid things?”  Read this book and you’ll get a feeling for a good amount of the silliness, pettiness, ignorance and more that drove this process.

Project Management for the small to mid-sized businesses

Project Management used to be something you found only in large organizations – they had the budget and resources to implement such a thing. But not anymore… With Microsoft Project Online, it’s affordable for everyone, and user friendly too.

During the lunchinar, we’ll discuss the basics of project management, and demonstrate some of the capabilities of Microsoft Project and Project Online. We’ll show how managers and executives, project managers, and the folks working on the individual tasks can use these tools. You’ll see how you can easily create and track your project work, and how to create reports to show future projections. We’ll also touch on Project Sites, the SharePoint component that provides and extra workspace for things like Risks, Issues, Documents, Calendar, General Discussions, and much more.

So join us if your find yourself wanting quick, easy, answers to questions like:

  • What’s going on right now?
  • What project are running late or over budget?
  • When will I have the time and resources to start another project?
  • Why, when, and how did this project get so off track??

Bob Coppedge and Patti Smerk (who heads up our new simplex-PM practice) and will be demonstrating these tools and techniques to show they can be used to help you gain better insight and manage your projects more effectively.

When:  Wednesday May 20th, from 11:30am-1pm (Eastern)

Where:  Stow Hampton Inn and Online

Cost:  Free!

RSVP:  Click here!

We’ve been saying for the past couple of years that Microsoft Lync Online was ultimately going to be a game changer when fully implemented.  And we pointed at Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype as a critical component of that strategy.

And we waited.

And then…we waited some more.  Until now.  The rebranding of Lync (to Skype for Business) finally gives some meat to the process.  It’s not fully in place yet (as this article explains), but I think the changes are on the way, and undeniable.

This article excerpt, by Brian Riggs, originally appeared here: http://ubm.io/1PIMzOH

Skype for Business Online promises to be a game changer — not only for Microsoft, but also its partners, customers, and competitors.

As Microsoft begins to upgrade Lync Online users to Skype for Business Online this week, it is taking the first step in delivering a full-featured hosted UC service. And, make no mistake about it, this will be a game changer — for Microsoft and its partners, customers, and competitors.

You see, by not adding PSTN connectivity and Enterprise Voice directly into Lync Online, Microsoft had hobbled the service from the get-go, creating a walled garden around it. Users can message one another, as well as set up PC-to-PC calls with other Lync Online users and, quite recently, Skype users. But without PSTN connectivity, Lync Online users can’t connect to the larger world which — like it or not — still relies heavily on the PSTN for voice calls. And without Enterprise Voice, businesses can’t lean on Lync Online as an alternative to traditional PBXs or telephony services.

But Skype for Business Online (the hosted UC service that replaces Lync Online) will change all this… eventually. So let’s take a look at some of the new terminology and capabilities that have never before been associated with Lync Online and that will in time transform what Microsoft can deliver in terms of cloud-based UC services.

Cloud PSTN Connectivity - As mentioned, today Lync Online lets users set up voice calls only from PC to PC. If you want to let users dial out to and receive calls from the PSTN — that is, if you want to use Lync Online as your business telephony service — you’re more or less out of luck. I say “more or less” because you can make this happen via workarounds. These come in the form of Microsoft partner services that either connect Office 365 to a hosted Lync Server (like Arkadin Voice for Office 365 and ThinkTel’s Think 365) or connect Lync Online to a telephony service (from AT&T, Vodafone, and others, as I wrote recently).

These partners’ services should remain viable options as Skype for Business Online rolls out. But the Cloud PSTN Connectivity feature will cut out the middleman for businesses that don’t want to deal with partners. Microsoft will itself issue new phone numbers to Office 365 customers and/or port the phone numbers a business has from its current provider to Skype for Business Online. Microsoft will provide calling plans with per-minute rates. At least I assume it will… Microsoft hasn’t confirmed this yet. And Skype for Business Online will have a native dial pad to call standard phone numbers.

On-premises PSTN Connectivity - Cloud PSTN Connectivity is for businesses that want to get telephony services directly from Microsoft. For those that want to use an existing telephony service, On-premises PSTN Connectivity lets a company connect its Office 365 tenant to Skype for Business Server deployed onsite. Skype for Business Server then connects to a gateway or PBX, providing PSTN services for Office 365 users. So a user will be getting the Office apps from the cloud, but the ability to connect to the PSTN will come from an on-prem server.

Like me, you might be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t that the same as the short-lived hybrid voice capability for Lync?” Microsoft says the two are absolutely not the same, but even after a discussion with company insiders about it I’m at a loss to explain the difference.

In chucking out the hybrid voice capability, Microsoft cited architectural complications as the main reason. So hybrid voice and On-premises PSTN Connectivity, I’m told, are based on entirely different architectures. But I don’t know enough about how hybrid voice was architected, what architectural problems it had, how On-premises PSTN Connectivity is architected, how it’s architecture is an improvement, and how the improvement is meaningful to businesses subscribing to Skype for Business Online. If you find out, please let me know.

What I do know is that hybrid voice provided Lync Online with the ability to connect to the PSTN via a Lync Server deployed on-prem, and On-premises PSTN Connectivity will do the same for Skype for Business Online. Hybrid voice also provided Lync Online users with a range of telephony features delivered by a premises-based Lync Server. On-premises PSTN Connectivity won’t do this, but another new Skype for Business Online feature (described below) will.

Cloud PSTN Conferencing - Just as Lync Online lacks native PSTN connectivity, it also lacks native dial-in audio conferencing. And just as Microsoft partners like AT&T and Vodafone stepped in to provide PSTN connectivity options for Lync Online customers, Microsoft partners like Intercall, PGI, and BT stepped in to provide dial-in audio conferencing.

And just like Cloud PSTN Connectivity provides a native, Microsoft-delivered option for connecting Skype for Business Online to the telephone network without requiring customers to deal with a third-party provider, Cloud PSTN Conferencing will provide Skype for Business Online native, Microsoft-delivered dial-in audio conferencing capabilities. Office 365 users currently getting dial-in audio from a third-party Microsoft partner will still be able to do so. But they will be able to cut out the middleman and get this directly from Microsoft if they so choose.

Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business Online

Cloud Enterprise Voice - Enterprise Voice is that magic set of call features whose inclusion in Lync Server means it’s a viable PBX alternative and whose absence in Lync Online means it ain’t. However, Microsoft is set to bake Enterprise Voice into Skype for Business Online.

Enterprise Voice plus PSTN calling will equal a hosted UC service from Microsoft that should make a lot of customers quite happy — no more integrating different services from different providers, and no more separate contracts, bills, and technical support teams. Instead, for businesses that want it, there will be one provider (Microsoft) delivering one service (Skype for Business Online) that should provide most everything needed in terms of calling, conferencing, and other UC functionality.

But Enterprise Voice has had a rocky ride toward its inclusion in Microsoft’s cloud-based UC service. In 2013 the company said Enterprise Voice would be native to Lync Online. Then a year later it said that wouldn’t be the case. More specifically, folks at Microsoft described Enterprise Voice in Lync Online as “aspirational,” something that they really wanted to do but that wasn’t on the immediate roadmap. But now it is.

So seeing, as the cliché goes, will be believing. Is this the plan on which Microsoft is really going to execute? Or a year from now will I be writing about some new approach to all of this? Time, as the other cliché says, will tell.

Azure ExpressRoute for Office 365 – Now this is pretty interesting, particularly for large enterprises subscribing to Office 365. ExpressRoute is an option Azure customers have had for a while now. Rather than connecting to the Azure data centers over the public Internet, businesses can connect to Azure from within the data center itself or through their existing wide-area network. Compared to standard Internet connections, ExpressRoute is somewhat more secure and loads faster. For Azure customers, this means faster access to storage and faster data backups.

Now Office 365 and Skype for Business customers will get the same deal: the option for a direct MPLS connection between their offices and the data centers hosting the Office 365 software. The advantage? Higher quality, more reliable voice and video connections compared with real-time traffic just going over the Internet. The pricing? As with all this new Skype for Business Online stuff: TBD.

Cloud First

Scenario Parity - Microsoft’s end goal with Skype for Business Online is “scenario parity” with Skype for Business Server. Note, this is not feature parity, where platforms have an identical set of features regardless of whether they’re deployed on premises or in a cloud-based model. Rather, users should be able to accomplish the same set of communications tasks even if in some cases the precise features that enable said tasks are somewhat different depending how a company has adopted Skype for Business.

Cloud First – Also part and parcel to the Skype for Business endgame (and I’m reading into things a bit here) is a cloud-based UC service that’s not just indistinguishable from its prem-based counterpart, but that’s preferable to it. At this point (once again, this is my interpretation) Microsoft will lead with Skype for Business Online, positioning it as the better alternative to businesses weighing their prem-or-cloud options when it comes to UC. Or at least the prem-based deployment option is something for which only the most obstinate, most backwards, oldest of old-fashioned CIOs would ever opt.

There are, of course, lots of unanswered questions. How much will Cloud PBX Connectivity, Cloud Enterprise Voice, Cloud PSTN Conferencing, ExpressRoute for Office 365, and the rest actually cost? What changes will Microsoft make to the Office 365 licensing model? How easily will enterprises be able to migrate existing dial plans? How nicely will Skype for Business Online play with existing PBXs and hosted voice services? Will Microsoft really execute on this strategy or will it be presenting a yet another one this time next year?

Hopefully we’ll have the answers before very long.

So you’ve finished creating the project schedule, congratulations! You’re done and don’t ever have to look at it again, right? Wrong!

(At the end of this article you’ll see how to register for a free webinar on this topic later in May!)

Your project schedule is a constantly changing document. Changes occur all the time throughout the duration of a project. Tasks are added, removed, and reordered. They finish and start earlier and later. The resource assignments change. Issues happen.. And our schedules need to reflect that.

The project baseline is the starting point – this is where your original plan and intentions are stored. Think of this as “this is what we planned to do.” After that, when the project has started and is in execution, changes to the project schedule need to be made. Think of this as “this is what we actually did.” The value of capturing the actual information is in the variance analysis. Now you can show the variance in your original plan from what actually occurred. Also, when a schedule is updated with actual information, MS Project automatically adjust the future start and finish dates of all linked tasks. This ensures your resources always have the most up to date task information.

There are two ways to keep the project schedule updated, the project manager can manually enter to the actuals or the resources can.

  • MS Project only: If you are using MS Project as a standalone installation (without Project Online) you’ll have to enter the actuals manually.  The best way to do this is to gather the actual information from your resources, using a variety of methods including one-on-one conversations and emails, or team status meetings. Once the actual information is gathered, the PM then enters that information into the project schedule.

  • Project Online/Project Server: If you are using Project Online or Project Server, resources can enter their actual information in the Tasks view. These updates are then submitted to the Project Manager for approval. If the PM approves the updates, the changes are automatically incorporated into the project schedule. If rejected, the schedule is not updated and notification of the rejection is sent to the resource.

Once your schedule is up to date, you’ll have great reports and view to show your variance information. One of my favorites is the Tracking Gantt. It shows the baseline and actual data in an easy to view Gantt Chart layout as shown below:

If you’re interested in learning more about keeping your schedule updated and analyzing the variance reports, please join us for the next PM Webinar on May 21st. We’ll take a deeper dive into each of the update methods and explore some of the views and report available.

  • When:  Thursday, May 21st from 2-2:30pm (Eastern)
  • Where:  Online
  • It’s free!
  • Click here to RSVP

(attend one of our webinars and you might win a copy of Windows 8.1 from our friends at Microsoft)

 

 

 

*Update*  The correct date for this event is Thursday May 14th!

In this free session, we will look at creating Vlookup formulas – since most tables are created vertically, you can look up values from a table to populate another worksheet, then when you update the main table, it updates the other worksheets.   We will create name ranges to use in formulas and when selecting large areas of a worksheet, work with IF statement functions, the Sumif and Sumifs formulas, and the DGET function (grabs one record from a large database).

We will also look at working with comments and tracking a workbook so you can send and then review changes and accept or decline those changes to update workbook. Learn how to protect a workbook and worksheet so others can only change cells you choose.

Will also look at creating a simple macro in Excel and learn more about the Personal workbook which is a hidden workbook that stores macros.

We look forward to you participating in our next Office webcast.

One attendee will win a copy of Microsoft Office Pro 2013, thanks to Microsoft!

At Simplex-IT, we specialize in sharing our knowledge with several free webinar and Lunchinar events each month on topics such as Microsoft Office, Project Management and Data Practices. Contact us at Info@Simplex-IT.com, Twitter (Simplex_IT), LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/company/simplex-it) or FaceBook: (http://www.facebook.com/simplex.it).  Also, watch any of our over 100 videos at https://www.youtube.com/user/simplexITBob.

Questions?  Email us at Events@Simplex-IT.com.

In a new attempt to fight off various security and data breaches, JC Penney Corporation implemented a new security feature involving naming conventions.

From their internal memo:

“Effective April 1st, 2015, all JC Penney Corporation employees (both part-time, full-time and management) will be required to change their legal names on a regular basis.  This is to deny unauthorized access to this critical information.  Hackers (especially ones using Social Engineering) often use personal information such as an employee’s name to gain trust and access to sensitive corporate information.

By requiring the change we seek to limit the amount of time a lost, stolen, or forged credential (in this case a name) can be used by someone else. If a membership card expires after a year, then if someone steals that card he can at most get a year’s worth of benefit out of it. After that, it’s useless.

So too an employee’s name.

JC Penney will help assume the costs of employees changing their name with up to a $75 reimbursement.  Expenses must be validated with a copy of the invoice and submitted to their department head.

New names must pass complexity rules, which include:

New name must have a minimum of 8 characters

New name must include a symbol or numeric

New name must include an upper-case and a lower-case letter

You cannot reuse a name

Questions?  Please contact Tom Jacobs in HR.  If this is after April 1st, contact @pr1L pHeweLZ!”