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.

 

Did you know that you can do a lot more than just create project schedules with Project Online? Yep. Project schedules are a very important part of good project management, but there’s also a lot more, such as Risk Management, Issue Tracking, Documentation, and Deliverables, just to name a few. And Project Online helps you manage all of that in on easy to use place – Project Sites.

Risk Management – Project Sites have a Risks repository, where you can track and manage Risks in one location. You can include mitigation plans, contingency plans, and trigger if you’d like, but you don’t have to. Everyone on the project can view these Risks, and they can even be assigned to team members for better management.

Issues – Issues and Risks are very similar in Project Online. Technically, an Issue is something that has happened already, where a Risk is just a chance that something might happen. Issue lists are a great way of keeping track of things that affect your project throughout execution. Issues can also be assigned to team members and tracked and managed in Project Sites.

Deliverables – Mostly likely there are tasks within your project that result in certain document deliverables. They can be stored in Project Sites and even linked from the Project Schedule. For example, if part of the project is to create a Press Release, you could link the press release document you created to that task. Everyone can easily find it, and you’re ensured there’s only one current version of the document out there.

Announcements – reduce your emails and ensure everyone on the team sees the same message by using Announcements. These are a great way to increase project communication, and can be displayed for the duration of the project, or set to expire on a specific date. Now, reminding your team members to update their tasks before a status meeting only takes a minute!

Calendar – Share your project calendar with the team – it’s a great way to keep track of holidays, site closures, vacations, and other important events. This is separate from your project schedule, so it’s great for things that are good to know, but don’t have a direct impact on your project.

Customized Lists – This is where Project Sites are really great. You can create a custom list, or document library, of anything you’d like. I think it’s great for managing things like contractor invoices, project management documentation such as the Charter and Scope Statement, and even simple things like a phone list. Just think of how many Excel spreadsheets you could replace with a custom list. I prefer the custom lists because I know everyone sees the same thing, and there aren’t different versions of a spreadsheet being emailed all over.

Alerts and Notifications - Most items have the option of setting alerts on the item or list. Each person on the team can set up the alerts however they’d like. I like to be notified whenever there is any change to an item in my list, but maybe a team member only wants to receive a notification when a new item is added. That’s no problem since the alerts are managed by each individual.

Accessible anywhere, from any device – Project Sites are part of Project Online and Office 365, so they are accessible from any device. Just think of how organized you’ll be and how much time you will save. No more searching through emails to find the document you were supposed to review, you can pull it up right on your smartphone or tablet and review it there.

Project Sites are a great compliment to your Project Schedule. It’s one place where you can access all of your project information. You’ll be more organized and efficient, and your project team will be too!

If you’re interested in what Project Sites can do for you – Please join us on April 16th for Simplex-PM’s monthly webinar (2-2:30pm eastern).  April’s topic will be Project Sites, and we’ll demonstrate some of the topics in this article.

Click here to RSVP for this free webinar and possibly win a free copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2013 courtesy of Microsoft.

Simplex-PM is part of Simplex-IT, which is an award winning IT services organization located in Hudson, Ohio (between Cleveland and Akron).  Simplex-PM is aimed at Project Managers in the Small to Medium Business world, offering mentoring, training and support for organizations and people struggling to implement Project Management into their organization.  Simplex-PM is well-versed with Microsoft’s Project Suite, including Microsoft Project Online, Project Standard, Project Professional and Project through Office 365 and Project Server.

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)

 

MS AccessIn this webcast, we will continue to look at our data that we worked with in the last webcast using Microsoft Access 2013.  In the last webcast we created tables and worked with field settings and learned how to find data in a table.  Now, we will learn how to filter in a table.  Filters are a great way to find information quickly in a database, but are not as powerful as queries.

Queries ask questions and are the guts of a database.  It’s where you get all the answers to your questions to extract useful information.  We will learn how to create queries using one or more tables in a database.  We will see how to create queries using the query wizard and work with criteria to get the information we are looking for.  We will learn how to create a calculation in a query and total a group of items, such as total sales by department, total units in stock for products.  Do you want to enter the information you are looking for in a box so you get a different outcome each time you run the query or print a report, let’s create a parameter query to do just that.  Now that you have the information you need, why not print the query.  You want the report to look nice, let’s combine the fields such as first and last name even though they were create as separate fields in a table.  You can also export the report to Word and then email it to someone even if they don’t use Access.

Yes – there is so much more to Access and really we’ve just covered a fraction of what it can do.  If you are interested in learning more, we can provide another webcast or come out and train your employees to learn how to use this powerful program.

Attend this Free webinar from Simplex-IT and possible win a copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2013!

When:  Thursday, April 9th from 11-noon (eastern)

Where:  Online

click here to:  RSVP

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)

Bob CoppedgeHowdy, folks.  I’ll (Bob Coppedge, that is) will be presenting at the next meeting of the Entrepreneurship Series at the Hudson Library (the series is made possible with a grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation).  The topic will be Cyber Security.

“Bob Coppedge, owner and CEO of Simplex-IT, will discuss how to protect your business by safeguarding your perimeter, critical internal assets, data, remote users, customers, and partners.

Simplex-IT’s Managed Services practices and provides straightforward leadership on many IT issues and provides a wide range of security services to small and medium-sized businesses in the Hudson area and beyond.”

Want to join me?  It’s free, and I think they’ll have cookies.

When:  Monday, March 30, 2015.  6:30-8:30pm (eastern)

Where:  Hudson Library

RSVP (or find details) by clicking here.  If you’d like to attend online, send me an email, and I’ll see what we can do.

 

 

Microsoft has been pretty busy over the past few months with Windows 10. A major new version was released for preview, including their version of Apple Siri (“Cortana,” from the xBox Halo).

But less fanfare has been generated for some of the decisions behind the scenes, including rather liberal upgrade paths from previous versions of Windows (including Windows phone). Also how Microsoft is going to handle software updates to Windows 10 once it’s released.

And let’s not forget about Microsoft Office. Apparently it’s also going to be released in the same timeframe (no surprise there). Also apparently it’s going to be called “Office 2016,” in spite of my ongoing belief will be getting rid of the version number sooner rather than later.

So at our next luncheon are were going to review all of these changes that Microsoft is going to be implementing over the next 9 to 12 months. We’ll also take a look (a high-altitude one) at some of the other changes that Microsoft is rolling out, including significant changes to Microsoft’s Azure(cloud-based server and infrastructure), and Microsoft rebranding of their Lync product into Microsoft Skype for Business.

As always our lunchinars are free and open to the public.  We’ll be giving away a copy of Windows 8.1 and Office Professional 2013 (courtesy of Microsoft).

When:  Wednesday, March 18, 2015 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM (Eastern)

Where:  Stow Hampton Inn (or online from noon to 1pm)

Click here to RSVP!

One frequent conversation topic we have with customers is phones.  The most frequent question is what to do in terms of replacing their current phone systems with new ones.  The second most common is how to achieve the Nirvana of Unified Communications (UC).
The answer was always pretty simple.  It started with the purchase of hardware and software, and the budget blew skyward for small-medium companies.  But that’s changing, and quickly (or at a snails pace, depending on your needs).
There are two processes underway.  Existing smaller phone systems are increasing their capacity to integrate with external services (ie, integration with desktop software applications like CRM) without server-level investments.  The second is cloud services extending their capabilities to include phone functionality, whether in device form or using the desktop device as a phone (think Microsoft’s Skype).

Look for Microsoft to make some announcements specifically in the rebranding of their Lync product (soon to be called Skype for Business).
In the meantime, read on!

This article excerpt, by Stephen Leaden, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1L5MktO
Last year around this time I posted an article on UCStrategies “Why 2014 Is the “Perfect Storm” For UCC Adoption.” I believe that in this past year UC has been recognized as that next step progression and now drive Unified Communications to the next level. UC has been available to the enterprise marketplace for over eight years. In my experience it takes up to 10 years for a new technology to go mainstream, and in 2015 we will move well beyond the “hype cycle” for UC and, in my opinion, UC will go mainstream.
This past year we have seen a migration of emphasis from Telephony to UC. In fact, the conversation with any enterprise user we have had discussion with, including all clients and projects we serve, has been centered on Unified Communications, the game-changing elements of UC, and how it impacts the user communities they serve. The conversation around Telephony has virtually gone “extinct” and has completely been missing from the discussion. Telephony is a required component, yes, but any value statements and perceived value associated with Telephony-only are simply no longer there.
As mobility continues to gain ground (just look at Apple’s recent announcement around worldwide iPhone sales and associated profitability), elements of UC are also growing in the consumer space. Consumer elements of UC have been around for some time, including ad-hoc video conferencing (Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts), IM/chat (texting), and presence (aka friends lists and availability on Facebook). UC clients are available on mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) with all of the tools available in a desktop UC client.
Now it’s the enterprise’s turn. All of our clients are embracing UC and its entire suite of tools. They want a more robust environment; they want the ability to work from home and remotely from anywhere; they want one number reach to any device; they want desktop mobility (working from anywhere as though working from your desk); they want to collaborate and share documents and get consensus on a topic together; they want to get all email, voice mail, and faxes in a single InBox (Unified Messaging); they want to call one another by name and not by number any longer (corporate directory); and they are beginning to show great interest in having video conversations one-on-one and in groups.
Drivers for UC Adoption in 2015
So why will UC go mainstream in 2015? In my opinion they include:
1. The Hype Cycle Is Over – The hype cycle for UC is over, period, and interest in UC and UC adoption will be at the forefront of the real time communications conversation
2. Consumer Components of UC Here - Consumer components of UC are already here (as noted earlier)
3. Millennials Want It - Millennials will make up a full 50% of the workforce in less than five years and recently have surpassed baby boomers as the largest segment of the domestic US population. Millennials embrace all of the elements of UC and not just tolerate it – in a word, they want it (see my December 5, 2014 post “Planning for the Best UC Experience? Follow the Millennials”).
4. Telephony Is Dying – Telephony, and the interest in it, is for all intents and purposes, “dying” or even “dead.” Of course TDM has been dead at the enterprise level for over 60 months, and that part is obvious. The less obvious is that, although Telephony is not actually dead, the interest in it as a necessary component of real time communications is more than just irrelevant, it no longer carries any perceived value. The emphasis and conversation is now on UC and how UC and collaboration can connect everyone in real-time. The UC suite of tools brings so much more to the user experience than Telephony alone could ever bring by itself.
5. Enterprise’s Interest in UC Is Greater Than Ever - Enterprises have shifted and are now showing more interest in UC than at any other time. And they want to be creative with it. One of our clients is interested in adding UC clients for all Board members, providing them their own DID number, and holding a virtual Board call that can be recorded, in the event that a critical decision is necessary quickly or in the event of inclement weather. Another client is interested in providing all students with a tablet and adding a UC mobility client for each. This will provide faculty members the ability to notify students of a change in class venue, or hold a class “virtually” via collaboration or videoconferencing or both in the event of inclement weather. This will provide a richer, more connected student experience on or off campus.
6. Front Line Business Units Are Asking for UC Components – Many Contact Center leaders are now requesting multi-channel components, including IM/chat functions, responding to emails, phone calls, social media integration, and even video calls (Amazon Kindle Fire has been doing so over 15 months now). Some customers are planning on video kiosks for virtual specialists to work “across” multiple branch sites in any given day, a feat virtually unattainable if that specialist were physically required at all sites in a single day.
7. The Cost of UC Continues to Plummet - Pricing alone per UC license / end point has dropped close to 20% in the last 24 months, in our experience. Price consistently drives adoption in any industry, in this case UC. And UC offers huge ROI opportunities, from SIP trunking, working from anywhere (reduced real estate), reduced maintenance costs, and reduced end points (as desired), among others.
8. Next-Gen UC and Collaboration Is Here – New entrees are offering (some or all) feature and functionality including ease of use tools, “like” interfaces across multiple devices (desktop, tablet, smartphone), moving a single “conversation” among multiple devices, adding device awareness, geo-location presence for location-based identification, and powerful search functions for referencing multiple discussions. These new features and functions are creating new “buzz” surrounding UC. A single “like” user interface across multiple devices minimizes any extensive learning curve (in some cases nearly zero) and will be another key enabler to driving UC adoption this year.
Summary and Conclusions
So if you are a channel partner, gear up with appropriate manufacturer certifications to successfully implement UC day one for your enterprise customers.
If you are an end user organization, embrace UC as a core, key component of real time communications for your community going forward.
Note that the acceptance of UC in your organization relies heavily on a strategic deployment of UC, carefully constructed and rolled out for a high user acceptance rate. Without such an approach, your organization’s acceptance level will be less than stellar and even a possible failure.
So to be prepared, in my opinion this is the year for UC to go mainstream. If you don’t place UC into the pipeline as one of your next major projects for 2015/16, the level of adoption by competitors will begin to surface. The clock is ticking and you have 12-24 months before you will have to catch up to your competitors; now is the time to embrace the full UC suite of tools for your organization.

Free Webinar: “Corporate Data Review – What’s That?”

Did you like last months article (and webinar) about Database Performance? If you did, then you’ll love this upcoming free webinar!

Welcome to our third monthly Database webinar. Doug Tombow will introduce you to some key concepts as well as provide some understandable examples of what you should be thinking about regarding assessing your existing corporate data.

Topics presented:

  • What is a Corporate Data Review?
  • How Useful is Your Corporate Data?
  • Determining the ‘usability’ of your corporate data
  • Enhancing the usability of corporate data

When: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 from 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM (EST)

click here to RSVP (and possibly win a copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2013)

A Corporate Data Review is just a fancy phrase for something we probably are doing already.  Assessing the usefulness of our business data and systems.  But what we are probably not doing is being proactive about that process.  In other words, formally reviewing our data and then taking action when we discover the information is not quite as useful as we imagined.

It happens all the time.  We deploy a new ‘wonder system’ that will ‘manage all of our data and provide information at our fingertips’.  It’s promised to require very little effort on our part and a wonderful work experience each day.  We’ll know everything about anything with just a couple of clicks of our mouse.  What could be better?

But then we soon discover there are some limitations in the wonder system.  Ones that actually prevent those benefits from being realized.  There was a problem getting the historical sales data loaded.  Someone decided to issue new customer numbers and now we have two accounts for each of our customers.  The programmer’s idea of ‘ease of use’ requires me to open 5 different forms to update a customer address.  Unfortunately, these are all too common occurrences in new systems.

What can we do about it?  Well, the starting point is to have an understanding of your existing business systems and data.  What applications do we use, what data do they contain, where is that data stored, what format is the data saved in?  How many of us can answer those questions accurately?  It’s not easy when you have 10+ systems installed by a variety of vendors over time.

When our latest system was purchased how much analysis of the data was performed?  From what we see in the industry it’s usually the ‘exact amount required’.  That is, the exact amount required to get the system operational (to some degree).  Notice that may not coincide with the exact amount required to fully benefit from your existing data and your new system.  Data analysis and systems integration are specialized skills.  Skills that take years to master.  Skills that are far beyond those required to install a new system, load some files and give the users an overview on how to use the screens.

This is why the promises of ‘information at our fingertips’, ‘a holistic view of your entire customer relationship’ and others like them are usually not fully realized.  Because in the end no-one is analyzing our data and making the required decisions over time to ensure it is re-usable into the future.  They’re just installing new systems.

Let’s change that right now!  Let’s undertake the task of determining the best way to use our corporate data across all of our business processes.  It’s actually a very simple process that every business owner can get started with immediately.

Take the first step by attending the upcoming Simplex-DBA webinar ‘Corporate Data Review – What’s That?’ on Tues, 3/24/15 at 11 AM EST.  During that session we’ll cover this topic along with a few others to help us understand how we can get the maximum value from our business data and systems.  Because that’s the reason we have these systems in the first place!

I hope you all can attend and look forward to seeing you online.

Doug

Free Webinar:  ”Project Scheduling Best Practices”

When creating project schedules Microsoft Project/Project Online, there are a few things that work well, and some things we’ve learned to avoid. Here are a few of my favorites:

Tasks should be a reasonable duration based on the size of the project overall – Typically between 8-40 hours works for most. Anything smaller is too granular and larger is too big to manage. If you find yourself with a 5 month task, try to think about how to break it up. Use the large task as a Summary Task, with the more detailed tasks underneath it.

Assign tasks to named resources when possible – Assigning a task to “Paul Brown” provides a lot more visibility and accountability than assigning it to “Accountant” or “Sales Team.” Especially when using Project Online and/or Project Server and task status reporting is used.

True task dependencies – A lot of times we create a project schedule by entering the tasks in sequential order, and then linking them all together in finish to start relationships without much thought given. Rather than just arbitrarily linking tasks for cosmetic purposes, really think about which tasks are dependent on other tasks. Are they dependent on other tasks to start or finish before they can start or finish? If you don’t know, these are great questions to ask your resources or subject matter experts as you are creating the schedule.

Good realistic estimates – Inaccurate estimates can be the quickest way to project delays. Plan on about 6-6.5 hours of work on a task per day. Chances are, your resources are attending meetings, answering phone calls, sending emails, any number of things. You need to plan for that. Also, if you don’t know how long something will take to complete, ask the resources doing the work. Explain work and duration to them and be sure you understand how they are answering you. There are some great estimating techniques out there, but a simple best case/worse case provides you with a starting point.

Use constraints sparingly – When there’s a change in the project schedule, Microsoft Project (and most other tools) will automatically update the schedule for you. For example, if a task is scheduled to finish on April 25, but (in a shocking turn of events) it finished early on April 1, theoretically any task dependent on the completion of that task could start earlier as well. By using constraints to force a task to be scheduled on a certain date(s) reduces the fluidity of the schedule. Project wants to schedule your tasks to start as soon as possible (that’s the default) and entering constraints to force the contrary often leads in reduced functionality and frustration.

Don’t enter Start and/or Finish Dates – Create task dependencies as mentioned previously and let the software determine the start dates based on the durations and links of the earlier tasks. When a Start or Finish date is entered manually, MS Project creates a constraint (see constraint concerns above).

Don’t repeat nested task names – Maybe this is more of a pet peeve than a best practice, but repeated task names drives me bonkers. Let’s say you have a project of writing a book. If you have a Summary task named “Chapter 4” There’s no need to name the subtasks “Write Chapter 4 Text, Create Chapter 4 Graphics, Chapter 4 Proofreading” etc. If you must repeat, consider an abbreviated form, or put the repeated words at the end of the task. “Create Graphics – Chapter 4” or “Write text for Chapter 4.” These task names are displayed in various reports and views, and often times get cutoff if they are too long.

Good use of Milestone tasks makes for great reporting and status tracking. Milestones typically indicate when a large portion of the project is complete, and they are great reminders that it’s time to do a pulse check. Using the previous example, you may consider creating Milestones such as “Chapters 1-3 complete” or “Proofreading complete.” They are great way to show completion of a phase or group of tasks.

Keep it updates – an outdated project schedule is pretty useless. Pick a regular updating schedule and try to stick with it. It will depend on your project, but weekly seems to be a good starting point. If that seems too often then try every other week. Just make it priority to keep updated so you can do some forecasting as identify issues before they become problems.

Let your schedule determine your completion dates – too many time we come up with deadlines (or deadlines are demanded of us) without a full understanding of the work involved. Until the work is fully analyzed, it’s difficult to determine how long it will take. Throwing an arbitrary date out too early in the planning often leads to trouble meeting that deadline down the road. Take time to figure out what needs to be done and break it up in to manageable pieces. “Chunk it out” is a fun phrase that’s often used J Smaller pieces of the project will be easier to estimate (and more accurate) as well as easier to track and manage as the project progresses.

Use these best practices as a starting point, and add to it as you run across what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Be sure to join us on March 19th for the monthly Project Management webinar, where we will take a deeper dive into these best practices with additional discussions and demonstrations.

When:  Thursday, March 19th, 2-2:30pm (Eastern)

Where:  Online

Click here to RSVP:  (it’s Free!)

MS AccessIn this free webcast, we will look at creating and working with data in Access tables.  First we will look at how to organize and separate information into functional tables and set a primary field to identify records.  Will look at design vs. datasheet view – how to create fields in a table and understand certain rules when working with fields.  Will set the primary key field and work with different data types (such as text, numbers, dates, hyperlinks and attachments).  Did you know you can create a calculated field in a table?  We will work with data property settings, such as input masks, setting defaults and understand why you should create captions for your fields. We will use the lookup wizard to connect fields to other tables and create dropdown lists. We will also look at the relationship window to understand how to relate tables together.

Then we will look at a using the search, sorting, filtering features in a table, as well as being able to total, average, count a column of numbers.  Finally look at creating a quick form to help you enter data more efficiently into a table.

Since Access is such a powerful program and there are many parts to this software, we will cover another session next month that shows how to create queries and use criteria to extract the information you need out of your database.  And will also cover how to create a quick report to print that information.

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

When:  March 12th, 11am-noon (Eastern)

Where:  Online

Click here to RSVP

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)

IT Security for your business.  It’s a serious topic.  But you’re covered, right?  I mean, you’ve got your anti-virus.  Your firewall is…well, it’s doing what firewalls do.  And you have to enter a password to get into your computer (the proof of which is on your post-it note cleverly concealed on the side of your monitor).

So you’re covered…right?

Let’s see.  What are you doing about:

  • Protecting your backups?
  • Testing your backups?
  • Ransomware
  • Password requirements?
  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies?
  • Wi-Fi security?
  • Encryption for devices that leave the building, like laptops and tablets?
  • Users who might share credentials with the best of intentions?
  • Users who like to click on links in emails an on web pages?
  • Users who like to install stuff on their systems because there was a message on their computer telling them to?
  • Procedures to protect data from recently terminated employees?
  • Malware on Mobile devices?

There are a lot of questions here.  Join Bob Coppedge and the rest of Simplex-IT, and we’ll talk about strategies.  Not all companies require every level of security and protection, but management needs to make that judgment call with eyes wide open.

Where: Online or Stow Hampton Inn, 4331 Lakepointe Corporate Dr. off Route 8 at Steels Corners Rd.

When: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 from 11:30am-1:00pm

As a bonus, we will be awarding a door prize of Office 2013 to a lucky attendees. Free food AND free software – how awesome is that!

We remind you, though, seating is limited. To reserve yours, click here, email Events@Simplex-IT.com or call 234.380.1277. Come join the fun!