Browsing Posts in What’s Happening?

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:

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, Twitter (Simplex_IT), LinkedIn ( or FaceBook: (  Also, watch any of our over 100 videos at

Questions?  Email us at

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!”

Bob CoppedgeDefinitions:

  • ObsoleteNo longer produced or used; out of date.  Outmoded in design, style, or construction.
  • Obsolete (manufacturing):  Doesn’t draw power when you power it on.  Alternately, sparks/flames/smoke bellow out when you power it on.

A lot of companies faced the past several years of economic uncertainty (a polite enough word, no?) by tightening their collective belts.  From the IT standpoint, that meant:

  • No updates to applications (let alone new applications)
  • No replacement of older hardware
  • No training of employees technology
  • Cutting back on technology staffing
  • No training of technology staffing

And that was great the standpoint of cutting costs. The problem comes later. As in now. Now that a lot of companies are coming out of that cycle, they find themselves in a dilemma. By cutting back on these expenses that might have helped the bottom line, but it makes it difficult to grow moving forward either in terms of volume of business or new types of business.

We’re seeing a lot of companies, particularly manufacturing, that are facing this issue. The challenges include:

  • Obsolete applications (in particular ones that are supported by the applications author anymore)
  • Obsolete software.  Some examples include:
    • Windows XP, which lost all Microsoft support in 2014
    • Windows Server 2003, which loses support in July 2015
    • Windows SQL Server 2005, which loses support in 2016
    • Failing hardware (and out of warranty hardware)
    • Insufficient security
    • Inconsistent or nonexistent standards
    • Different versions of software (several versions of Microsoft office, for example)
    • Systems that only work because of manual processes that only a couple of people truly understand

Needless to say this is a situation that companies need to get out of in order to be able to grow. But how to do this? Actually there’s been a lot of attention paid to this process, and a lot of vendors out there willing to take your money (remember the consultants’ credo: “Your check is our command”).

And do we have to upgrade everything?  It’s a tough sell to go out and replace a perfectly working shop floor device for $30,000 because you’re told a $600 computer that works perfectly well needs to be replaced.

Here’s the first question. And it’s an important one. And it’s one that you as a business owner or business management must absolutely understand.

“Where are you now and what do you have?”

It’s absolutely critical that you have a good idea of where you currently are in terms of the health of your IT infrastructure. Not from the geeky bits and bytes standpoint, but what are the strengths, what are the vulnerabilities and where are the opportunities as they relate to both where your business is and where your business wants to go. If you don’t understand that then you’re abdicating that knowledge and the value of that knowledge to either your internal IT staff or an IT consulting firm. Neither of which have your perspective, your priorities, nor your understanding of the business.

So how do you go about answering that important question? Actually is fairly simple. Ask someone who is capable of answering. Insist on an answer. And listen to the answer.

So what constitutes a good answer to this question? We refer to these as a Network Audit and  and an application Application Audit. Some of the key ingredients include:

  • Inventory of equipment, including age, warranty status, health concerns
  • Inventory of software applications
  • Review of outstanding trouble issues
  • Comparison of status quo to best practices
  • Identification of critical business applications and out of date they are
  • Critical knowledge that is not documented or shared
  • Review of security (including protection against viruses and malware)
  • Review of backups
  • Review of testing of backups
  • At least a conversation about Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery
  • at least a conversation about new business practices and opportunities and whether IT can support them

Many IT companies, including Simplex-IT offer these services, often at a reduced rate (or even free, hint-– hint) as a way to introduce themselves to other organizations.  Make sure when you talk to these vendors that their goal is not to generate additional business, but to actually answer the critical question. These companies should understand that the better that they answer these questions the more that there demonstrating their value to you and your organization.

Next month:  Got that answered, now what?

I’d love to get your feedback.  Email me with your comments at

See ya next month.

Corporate data is important.

Most corporations keep track of their operations.  How they service their customers.  How they work with their vendors.  Cash flow.

We usually gather this data through applications, and the data is “structured,” meaning it’s contained using a technology like SQL, Oracle or the like.

Our topic for our Lunchinar this month is “Keeping Corporate Data Healthy.”

Data is critical to your business.

It needs to be healthy and reliable.  It needs to be there when you need it.  And it needs to provide you with answers to questions that assist in your operations, both strategically and operationally. In other words it needs to be ‘good’ data.

Do you have confidence your data is good?  Do you proactively deal with issues involving your data and have confidence that it is healthy?  That it will ‘be there’ when you need it – accurate, secure and ready to be used?

Having comfort and confidence in your data is a simple matter of addressing the ‘3 pillars’ of good data.

  • Health:  your data can be used when you need to use it.
  • Performance: your data is available quickly enough to be useful.
  • Usefulness: your data serves its intended purpose, but can be readily used for others as well.

This month, we’re going to focus on “Health.”  This includes:

  • Backups – proven to be usable should the need arise
  • Integrity – your data is not corrupt and can be relied upon for decision making
  • Security – your data is available only to those you choose to have access
  • Availability – it is able to be used when you need it

Doug Tombow (who heads up our new Simplex-dba practice) and Bob Coppedge will be demonstrating some of the tools and tactics we’re using to manage and maintain the health of some of our customers.

Join us!  It’s free, there’s going to be food (unless you join us online, in which case you’re on your own), we’ll give away a copy of Windows 8.1 and who knows what else?!

Click here to RSVP and more information

When:  Wednesday April 15th, 11:30-1pm (eastern)

Simplex-dba is part of Simplex-IT, which is an award winning IT services organization located in Hudson, Ohio (between Cleveland and Akron).  Simplex-dba is aimed at maintaining the health, security, performance and usability of corporate data (focusing on Microsoft SQL Server) in the Small to Medium Business world.  Our offerings include monitoring, management, training, proactive maintenance and strategic guidance.  We do so at a fraction of the cost of a full-time dba (DataBase Administrator) or those “big” consulting firms.

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, Twitter (Simplex_IT), LinkedIn ( or FaceBook: (  You can also check out our YouTube channel with over 100 videos at


Heads up: beginning April 14, Lync Online will become Skype for Business— so they can “combine the natural, collaborative way Skype enables people to speak face-to-face with the security and control of Lync.”  Also because Microsoft can’t go a month without renaming or rebranding something.

Why are they doing this?  Remember how Microsoft bought Skype a few years back?  One of the reasons (ok, maybe the reason) was that Skype offered a way to bring their Unified Communication model to fruition as a service as opposed to requiring everybody to buy servers (they could actually see the cloud model coming several years ago).  Fast forward to today, it’s a logical extension to bind the services offered by Skype and Lync.

Look for future offerings from MS and other partners to solidify this offering.  My suspicion is within a couple of years they’ll be fully competing for the entire small business phone business market without necessarily offering phones.

Anywho…back to the hype…I mean Skype…back to the Skype (all kidding aside, this is pretty cool).  After the organization has transitioned to Skype for Business, you will benefit from:

Skype design – Skype for Business uses the same interface as Skype—if you’ve used Skype, you’re already familiar with Skype for Business.

Global reach – Voice and video connectivity to the entire Skype network.

Full Lync feature set – Because Skype for Business builds on existing Lync features, no features or functionality will be lost.

Schedule an online meeting. Make a video call. Add a new emoticon to your next IM chat. Skype for Business makes communication easy and makes you more productive. Not sure how you’ll best use it? Have a look at this video for some ideas.

Not sure about Office 365, or Lync, or Skype, or life in general?  Contact us at Simplex-IT or just call 234.380.1277 and we’ll help you out.

Hi! I’m Zoey Sollisch and I just finished my first week at Simplex-IT. I graduated from Kent State almost a year ago and have a strong background in sales. I started my sales journey working at the most hated place on campus: the alumni fund for annual giving. Basically my job was to call and ask alumni for money. Although it was the highest turnover job on campus, I absolutely loved it and stayed for almost two years raising well over 25,000 for Kent State. That’s when I discovered my passion for people/selling. I loved going into work every day and forming relationships with all different kinds of people on the phone. After that I pursued a sales and custom marketing internship at the Cleveland Jewish News which I immediately fell in love with. I learned an incredible amount and met some of the best people. I then had an internship at a recruiting company and after I graduated I got a job in outside sales at Pure Water Technology selling water purification systems. I stayed for about 8 months and realized it wasn’t for me and that I really wanted an inside sales job in IT. My brother works in IT sales and loves absolutely everything about it.

When I found Simplex-IT I applied immediately. After one week I can honestly say this is the best culture I’ve been a part of. I love how ethical and non corporate everything is here. I am so excited to be a part of the team.

Although I’m not technical, I’m looking forward to bringing a new perspective to the team. I love connecting with people and making relationships and I think because I’m not technical I will have an easier time explaining what I do know to other non-geeks. I’m extremely outgoing and people driven, which I look forward to bringing to the team as well. I’m eager and ready to learn all I can.

In my free time I enjoy hiking, kayaking, snowboarding, and cooking. I’ve also recently began convincing myself I enjoy running, too. I just adopted a 2 year old pit mix from the Cleveland animal protection league so cuddling with him has quickly become another one of my hobbies.

If you’re interested in discussing how Simplex-IT can help you and your organization maximize the effectiveness of your IT, contact me at or call 234.380.1277!

Each year the folks at MSPMentor publishes a few lists of what they see as the top Managed Service Providers.  Their list includes the top 100 Small Business Managed Services Providers (10 or fewer employees).  Simplex-IT found itself once again on that list for 2015.  We moved up from 49th in 2014 to 42nd in 2015.

I’m honestly not 100% sure exactly how important this is in the grand scheme of things.  That said it beats a poke in the eye with a stick.  Of that I’m sure<g>.

All that said, congrats and thanks to everybody at Simplex-IT for their contribution for this award.  And thanks to our partners, both vendors and customers, who make us look good.