Software Implementation

We are now in the process of implementing a large scale document management system for a construction company. This is an experience that shows the value of good training and documentation as well as setting expectations. The software has been installed and is functioning and now comes the training of the users. We are the reseller of the software not the actual developers, so we base our knowledge on what we’ve learned from installation, use, certifications and documentation provided by the developer.

When training the customers we need to be experts and provide effective recommendations on how to use the software based on the customer’s business needs. Fit the software in the business processes wherever possible for optimal integration. In order to do this we need good resources to educate ourselves on the details of the product. The integration will fail (or not be as effective as it could be) without this knowledge. Your customer will have questions that may get too detailed for your knowledge. Answering these questions with guesses or knee-jerk reactions is dangerous and at that point you are no longer the expert in the customer’s eyes. To prevent this from happening the best thing to do is table the questions you aren’t sure about for a later date until you can do more research.

Documentation for the product is very important as it can provide you and your customer for a base on best practices and detailed information on the functionality the system provides. In our case, the documentation was written by the developer. At this point, it would be beneficial to have documentation up to date when the product is released, not during or after the release of the product. This will eliminate confusion in the future. It is also important that before your reseller can sell the product they need to receive certification for sales and service. If these certifications are not available…wait to release the product. It is far better to have the reseller trained and certified on the product before the implementation cycle begins. This will ensure the developer has passed on key knowledge to the reseller in order to not only sell the product effectively, but to support it as well.

Setting customer expectations in the beginning is important no matter what. Set the rules of the game in the beginning. No one likes changing the rules in the middle of the game. Large scale implementations such as the one we are working on now can be complex and confusing. The thing to practice most is communication. Communicate your responsibilities and requirements to all parties and visa versa. This way everyone knows their role and what they need to accomplish in order to achieve a successful rollout.

Measuring Performance

Performance reviews are a great tool when used correctly. In theory, performance reviews measure levels of performance in certain areas the company deems appropriate for their company and/or position in the company. When a person doesn’t meet certain goals or performance levels trying to achieve these goals he/she is then denied the reward (if any) had they been performing at higher levels. Performance reviews are always a good tool for both the employee and the employer. Employers should really consider using them to improve performance levels across the organization. Employees should use them to evaluate whether or not they are doing well in their current position. The review will highlight areas where you need to improve and where you stand currently. Knowing this is important to maintain levels of performance in your job function. How can you be sure you are performing to your standards and the standards set by your company? Answer: you can’t unless you understand what areas of performance your company measures. With performance reviews, the employee knows where they stand and can make adjustments to improve or move on. The same goes for the company. Let’s evaluate this in an analogy: Machines.

When NASA launches a rocket they collect all sorts of data from the engine to the environment surrounding the rocket itself. This data is then examined and used to make adjustments to the rocket to increase its performance on the next launch. Like any machine a rocket can be tweeked in order to get maximum performance. In order to accomplish its mission, NASA knows the rocket must meet or exceed certain performance levels in various categories. Once the rocket has been altered it is put to the test again, measured, then tweeked. Measure, tweek, measure. One could do the same thing for people in order to enhance their performance. As people are your most valuable asset in an organization you want them functioning to spec or beyond. You accomplish this by setting your metrics, your rewards/incentives and taking measurements and making adjustments.

Like NASA, companies also have missions. Most of the time performance metrics are based on the mission. If not, the company risks measuring the wrong metric and effectively losing sight of the performance it needs to accomplish its mission. It’s in both parties best interest to know what performance metrics are measured and what reward (if any) will be given if the employee meets the performance levels. With proper metrics and realistic goals an organization can get the best performance. Like the rocket people need to be tweeked sometimes.

Microsoft Bing

After about a month or so of use, I’ve found Bing to be a great search engine. Excuse me Decision Engine. Anyways, it works like it should and looks great. The only thing I would develop more is the Map area. In Google Maps you can click and drag a different route. Not to mention Google’s Street View. But, your map is coming along with options like Traffic. I’d say maps are about 30% of my purpose for using Bing anyway. Other than that, good job Microsoft! This is a great product. So great, in fact, that Yahoo has announced they will use it for Yahoo Search. Looks promising for you Bing! I’m a supporter.

For more information on Bing you can visit: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bing_(search_engine)
http://www.discoverbing.com/
www.bing.com

Capitalism

Read this HERE

Yup. I’ve thought about what I’d do if I lost my job. Me and the rest of the world, I’m sure. These people in this article are a prime example of what happens in a free market capitalist economy. Work is hard to find right now so people start sticking to what they know and just running with their own business ideas. Or, using what they have learned from education and experience in the workforce to create opportunities for themselves. Can’t find work? Make your own!!!

Part of the reason behind starting Calico Information Systems (previously Calico Technologies) was the fact that I can rely on my own skills as an IT professional to make my business successful. When it comes down to it, I can always rely on my self for employment. So, when I was just out of college and looking for work I told myself that I could make a living on my own if I needed to. Then, I started developing documentation and business models. Setting this all up on a budget of course, considering I had little to no income. The fact is, I’m ready and so are these people.

Always be prepared to lose your job and always have a backup plan.

Tips:

Know how much your life costs – create a budget / expense report. Prioritize your purchases and investments. Read. Bounce ideas off people you know.

I was part of a startup once (not my own). Lessons learned there: don’t get used and don’t be the user. No one is happy being used and using people only makes them go away.

Symbiosis in Business

Settling for what you have is not necessarily what drives me (or others like me). I’ve found that success comes with wanting to achieve more than you’ve achieved already. Continuous improvement is the idea I’m aiming at. I know that if you either a person or a business you need continuous improvement to stay competitive.

At work, when you raise the proverbial bar you are expecting the same from your company. Correct? You’ve shown commitment and dedication to your job and your company should show commitment to you. In other words: you get out what you put in.

Let’s set up a scenario:

You have worked harder and harder each day to provide the best possible services to your company so the company can sustain growth. The harder you work the more your company grows (this assumes everyone is working as hard as you and your hard work is not in vain because a good percentage of employees aren’t productive). When the company grows, your hard work and dedication are rewarded (for the most part) by increases in your compensation package, etc. Keep in mind I said compensation package, which could range from 401(k) to healthcare to base salary. So, you work for the company and the company rewards you with compensation. This can be called a symbiotic relationship if you will. You need the company to provide you with compensation and the company needs you to help it grow and achieve success.

This symbiotic relationship doesn’t exist in some companies. Some over-achievement isn’t rewarded at all. When this happens where do you think the motivation for raising the bar goes? –Out the window– If hard work, dedication and commitment aren’t rewarded, they will eventually cease to exist. Then what can one do to keep productivity, innovation and growth in their company? Hire new people to replace the ones that have lost their motivation? At that point, you’ve created a revolving door where as soon as someone comes on staff and performs at the same level as their predecessor, before you know it, they’re gone too and you have to start all over. And the cycle continues until you have people who are complacent and don’t strive for anything more than just showing up for work. If your employees aren’t continuously improving and sharpening their skills, your company will be hard up for the fuel it needs to grow and stay competitive. Why does this concept seem basic and yet a number of companies operate this way? Are they just getting by, or do they truly not understand how people and business work together in symbiosis to achieve success?

At some point I will examine the means by which companies and employees can avoid the revolving door and corresponding degradation in performance.

Flash Drive

The other day I noticed a flash drive on someone’s lanyard and I asked myself: I wonder what they have on their flash drive. Can you imagine the possibilities? Anything from work related information to personal W-4 forms or short stories. I would really have a fun time guessing what would be on an individual’s flash drive. What type of documents does a CEO carry or an Accountant? A Systems Administrator?

Anyways…something to think about.

Parallels: Vista Ultimate

Installation of Vista Ultimate on my MacBook went very well. After the install I noticed a couple of things I would’ve liked to see. I did lose some functionality, but that’s expected when you’re in a virtualized environment. Or is it? I would think that by now Microsoft and Parallels would have driver issues ironed out. Installing Parallels Tools was simple and it provides the feel that I’m going for. I like how you don’t have to press CTRL + ALT to release the mouse from the virtual machine. I also like the auto display setting when I resize the Parallels window. Other than that I didn’t notice much else that Parallels Tools helped me with, but there may be some under the hood changes. So, let’s begin discussing the bugs.

The first bug I noticed (and it’s small) was that the Windows Experience Index calculator wouldn’t work. This is not really a functionality, nor does it hinder my ability to process, but it’s still something I’d like to know.

The second bug is a little more severe. Somehow, I can only use the Shared Networking option in order to connect to my network in Vista. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve tried several settings. My MacBook is connected to a wireless router using DHCP. One would think that connecting Parallels to the Airport would allow Vista to pick up an IP, but no dice. It may be that I have to play around with it more.

The third bug is the sound. Windows sounds are good, but when I try to play any of my mp3s or movies, it gets choppy. This is upsetting especially when I’m trying to really test out Media Center and Media Player.

I know that if I wanted everything to work fine I would have to install Vista Ultimate on its own machine. I’m torn here and have yet to find the heart to put a lot of money into a Vista workstation yet. I know that eventually I’ll have to, but until then I’ll probably just deal with these flaws in a virtualized environment. Anyways, it’s a good OS so far and i think it does have some real potential. I mean, what else is there for businesses, really? Don’t say the *nix word because I’m not quite sure that businesses are really ready to adopt Linux for their workstations just yet. That’s another topic I’ll touch on at a later date. For now, let’s end with Windows Vista is notĀ allĀ that bad on a virtualized environment and has great potential as the next generation business workstation.

Cool new toys

Yesterday I went to a Microsoft {heroes} launch event. It was awesome. Free Mountain Dew, lunch bags (with food) and free software. Aside from all the free stuff I was pleased to find that it didn’t all seem like a big marketing seminar. I was actually impressed when the Evangelist (Kevin Remde) got into some nitty gritty of Windows Server 2008 product. Here is a link to his blog where you can find more info.

All in all I really enjoyed learning more about Windows Server 2008 capabilities. Their software seems really good. Now, the only question remains is Is it good for my company? or How can we use that technology here?. Those are the only other questions I must ponder as a Sys Admin.

One of the big features I’m interested in is Virtualization with Hyper-V. I really liked seeing it in action. It was only the beta version Kevin demoed so it had some bugs (one of which we were able to witness).

At the end of the event we were all given copies of Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Visual Basic 2008 and Windows Vista Ultimate. This was really AWESOME!!! We were all told it is to be used for evaluation and testing purposes only. As a matter of fact I’ve installed Vista on my MacBook and am using it right now to type this blog. Pretty nifty software if you ask me. It’s not for everyone, but its pretty nice. Some of the features resemble OSX features closely. Things like the Windows sidebar with Gadgets. Anyways, I’m not doing a review of Vista just yet, but you get the idea. Vista has some great potential and I’m looking forward to continue to test it.

Ubuntu v Vista

Here is an interesting article comparing Windows Vista and Ubuntu desktop systems.

Are we to the point where we can compare the two? Are we to the point where ligitimate amount of CIOs are going to ask themselves which is better for their business environment? I don’t think so (at least in my industry), but others do. Linux is still more of a server and engineering workstation desktop IMHO.

In the next 5-10 years, Ubuntu may be a viable option for people in my industry, but not as it is now. The users and applications aren’t ready for it.

Necessities for your PC

***Obviously Out of Date in today’s world 092917*** I’m writing this thinking that your already know what I’m going to say, but surprisingly enough many don’t. There are a couple of applications that don’t come with windows (or do, but are not effective) that need to be installed in order to protect your PC as much as possible. Windows XP Service Pack 2 addresses the issue of the Firewall and updates, but lacks the functionality that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that my PC is protected. Really, the Antivirus protection side of Windows Security only offers a warning that your computer is not protected by AntiVirus software. Installing the Antivirus software is up to the user.

Here is a list of software that your PC needs:

I know common sense is just plain common sense, but it needs to be said.

One might believe that obtaining this extra software is costly, but you’d be surprized. There are a number of companies out there that offer this software for free in hopes you will purchase the full or corporate versions.

Feel free to discuss even more effective free alternatives to this type of protection software.