IT is an integral part of the day-to-day operations for most businesses today. The smooth operation of integral systems is a target which many organisations struggle to achieve. With the cost of in-house staff ever-increasing, many find employing external contractor a tempting alternative.
||IT Services companies provide two basic models of servicing their customer. The traditional “break-fix” model which is still the most popular form of providing IT services to customers. When the customer experiences a technical issue with their systems they raise a ticket with the support company. The resolution of the issue depends on the nature of the problem and the Service Level Agreement which both sides agree to.
Managed Service Providers supply a more advanced method of looking after their customers. They constantly monitor a customer’s systems looking for issues which are not yet felt by the end users. Their aim is to eliminate potential problem before they begin to affect the operations of the customer. In this scenario the only way for the managed service provider to make money is to maintain the systems in the best possible way using IT best practice.
In addition to the above, they often take care of all the software and hardware purchases required as well as manage customer’s interaction with other suppliers (broadband supplier, phone line supplier, often even electricity supplier) allowing the customer to have truly one point of contact for any issues that may arise.
How can this benefit the small business owner? Managed service providers employ experienced IT support staff who will take the time to understand a customer’s business first. They then offer solutions to the pain points which the customer points out. They are constantly on the looking for ways to make the infrastructure more reliable. By eliminating most avoidable issues as well as preparing for possible failures they will be prepared to react if a serious issue occurs, therefore limiting or eliminating data loss and impact to the customer’s business.
As you can see the fact that Managed Service Providers offer a proactive way of managing the customer’s infrastructure, makes it a far more superior method of IT management, allowing the customer to concentrate on what they do best, in turn making them more competitive and successful.
In tough economic times the ability to analyse your past and present business data and the ability to predict future trends can give you a competitive advantage. Armed with a powerful reporting tool, you have a 360 degree view of your operation. Business Intelligence (BI) tools, therefore, can provide great help with many of your decision-making processes and can go a long way in offering your company a significant competitive advantage.
Crystal Reports from SAP is one of the most popular BI tools available. It has very extensive reporting capabilities on a wide range of data sources.
Accessible data sources include the following:
- Databases such as PostgreSQL, Sybase, IBM DB2, Ingres, Microsoft Access, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Interbase and Oracle
- Spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel
- Text files
- HTML and XML files
- Groupware applications as Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange and Novell GroupWise
- SAP: BW, Info Sets, Tables, and Business Objects Universes
- Any other data source accessible through a web service, ODBC, JDBC or OLAP
In total there are over 40 available data sources.
Once you extract the data required from your data sources you can use the tools provided to sort, group and present it in the way which is easiest for you to understand. Crystal Reports offers you a high degree of flexibility and control over the way you present the data. You have the ability to further increase visual impact by choosing from a wide variety of map and chart types.
You can also add formulas to process available data.
Reports can be displayed in a number of formats including PDF, Excel, XML, HTML, and RTF to name only a few. This allows you to provide recipients with a report in the format they expect.
Crystal Reports is licensed per named user.
To get a feel for the software please visit the below link to download a fully functional 30 day trial:
Crystal Reports trial
Crystal reports is a worthy investment for any business which needs to create and process interactive reports to stay ahead of their competition.
In today’s working environment we have to deal with receiving information from many different sources, in multiple formats, which we are struggling to manage, digest and navigate the information to get to what is relevant. Something as simple as searching for information can waste a lot of time and have a big effect on our own productivity, and in turn can affect performance and job satisfaction.
We decided to conduct some research into this issue of information overload, with the aim of quantifying how much of a problem this is proving for office workers and consequently businesses today. Our survey was conducted by One Poll to office workers across the UK, Sweden and Holland, and asked a series of questions to find out how much information we receive on a daily basis and from which sources. The results of this research have provided some very interesting insights into around how the information that faces us on a daily basis is affecting employee efficiency and ultimately costing businesses.
View our infographic of UK results:
This is a guest blog post by Chris Harman who is an accomplished business leader with over 15 years’ experience in managing Sales and Marketing teams across EMEA and America. In his role as Regional VP NEWS at Mindjet, Chris directs Sales and Business Development across Northern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and is responsible for the operational and strategic management of the region.
Prior to joining Mindjet, Chris held various senior management positions in the technology sector, working for organisations that included Infinium Software, Comshare and Geac Computer Corporation. Amongst these, was his role as Regional VP of US West for Infor (previously Geac), in which he was responsible for managing the Sales teams for the Performance Management and Expense Management product suites across the US West and Canada.
Business continuity plans are often seen as insurance policies - something that organisations don’t really want to pay for, but feel they have to. In the worst cases, some don’t bother at all, thinking “it won’t happen to me.” However, as more and more companies rely on IT to support the everyday running of the business, the need for disaster recovery and business continuity plans continues to grow.
Organisations should not just see business continuity as an insurance policy though. Instead of being a necessary cost that delivers little value, the opportunity is there to re-assess the company’s wider IT infrastructure and think about future plans for IT.
Linking continuity planning into virtualisation provides a means to achieve cost savings through server consolidation: a reduced number of physical servers and the power to run them means less cost to the business, but continuity and DR plans can be added into this solution at the same time. Companies can use their savings here to buy in extra storage and replicate data across to a second back-up server, or use a service provider to host their secondary systems.
Similarly, companies can look at remote working and giving staff access to services over the internet - backing up data and applications across to a second site provides redundancy for disaster events, but this investment can also make staff more flexible in how they work, providing a day-to-day business benefit too.
Not having access to IT systems can cause disruption to the business, which can lead to loss of revenue and have a lasting impact on the company’s reputation. For many companies that hold customer data - banks and other financial institutions, for example - data loss is not an option due to legislation from the Financial Services Authority.
When thinking about business continuity, organisations should consider what amount downtime they can afford without causing too much disruption to the business, as well as the amount of data they are prepared to lose. This is important as it will affect the type of BC solution that is suitable for the business.
Ian Masters – Sales and Marketing Director
Ian is UK Sales Director at Vision Solutions, and has been advising organisations on their requirements for business continuity, disaster recovery and backup for over a decade. He has a wide background in the virtualisation, storage and high availability space, working across multiple platforms. Recently, he has also entered into the world of desktop virtualisation following the launch of Double-Take Flex.
His previous role was UK Sales and Marketing Director at Double-Take Software, who were acquired by Vision Solutions, and prior he worked as UK & Ireland Country Manager with Sunbelt Software, a supplier of Windows management tools and security software. Ian studied at Bangor University, North Wales, and gained a BSC (Hons) in Marine Zoology.
Recently I came across quite an interesting question. A friend of mine asked me what software is. I thought that this was a very valid question, as not many people can produce a definition on the spot. After some short research I came across a brilliant definition on Wikipedia:
Software is a collection of computer programs and related data that provide a computer with instructions on what to do and how to do it.
I think it is a very adequate definition. Not every computer program is software. Software is a collection of programs which coupled with data allows the computer to perform certain tasks.
Ok, so how is the software made? Well this is usually a long process which involves writing loads of lines of code. The code (or the computer program syntax) can be written in a number of computer languages by computer programmers or software developers. They usually use some development tools like IDE (integrated development environment). The most popular IDE on the market is Visual Studio.
Visual Studio allows developers to create computer programs using a number of computer languages. Most popular computer languages used in Visual Studio are C++, C# and VB.NET.
A long time ago developers noticed that they spend most of their time writing the same code over and over again. They then created a theory of object oriented programming. This theory allows developers to create short computer programs called objects which can be reused multiple times in building their future programs.
There are also commercially available components on the market which make writing computer programs quicker and easier. Two of the main publishers of such components are ComponentOne and Telerik.
Once you create your application you will need packaging software which will take care of the installation process. There are two leading software packaging products on the market: InstallShield and Wise Package Studio. These packages will allow you to create an easy installation process for your customers to follow in order to correctly install your applications on their computers.
Good luck with your first project! Let us know how it went.
...continuing the theme of the work/life balance (http://bit.ly/e3nzFJ), it has almost become axiomatic for many workers that zero hours contracts are, if not executed in name, are expected in spirit to some extent. Work/home boundaries blur in a physical sense and time follows suit. Gordon Gekko philosophy lives: lunch is for wimps. Workers feel insecure as jobs become scarce and redundancies escalate; union protection is minimal. On a day when we have been told by the Bank of England that disposable income is at its lowest since the 1920s, many people need to work longer hours to makes ends meet and accept poor terms in an extremely competitive job market.
The amount of work that is not remunerated no doubt makes a significant contribution to the economy of the country and to private profits, if not to the pocket of those executing it. Many people are not averse to volunteering, but they are likely to want to choose a favoured charity or their local community on which to bestow additional time and effort rather than the office where they spent most of their week anyway. The on-demand availability of a workforce can lead to a reactive culture where less and less is planned and organised and uncertainty reigns. Volunteering has also been used as a way of de-skilling some professions. Cheapness becomes more important than quality or consistency and generations of knowledge are eroded.
The free-for-all of such working practices stands in contrast with one of the first organised attempts to harness volunteer labour when subbotniks and voskresniks were instituted by the Bolshevik government in 1919 following the third Russian Revolution (the name deriving from the Russian words for Saturday and Sunday). They involved citizens undertaking community duties such as litter clearing and took place against Russia's desperate struggle for survival in a civil war, following the ravages of the First World War. In later years, they became compulsory but were initially undertaken with genuine enthusiasm by a people trying to build a very new type of society.
Here, governments cannot quite decide whether voluntary work is a punishment, social obligation or a way to keep pesky pensioners off the streets during the day. It was announced in April 2009 (http://bit.ly/g4Xog6) that Gordon Brown wanted to see every teenager in the country complete up to fifty hours of volunteer work by the age of 19. Something to do while they struggle to compete in a shrinking job market I suppose. Four pilot projects were established that were posed to become compulsory before Labour lost the election. David Cameron launched his "big society" drive in Liverpool (http://bit.ly/bIFD1O) to make people feel so "free" and "powerful" that they no longer need public services or at least run their own voluntary schemes for "luxuries" such as libraries, post offices, transport and housing.
Perhaps we should make the workplace somewhere that is well-structured and organised enough to enable people to reclaim the concept of voluntary as something that is willingly given.
Demos: yes an abbreviation for demonstration versions of software but, when combined with "kratia", ancient Greek meaning democracy. Even today, it is a word that can mean all things to all men and ancient Greece was no exception. A literal translation would be "people power" but who defines "people"? Like the supposed democracy following the French revolution and American Revolution, "people" were readily understood to mean basically white, freeborn males and franchise might still be restricted by a financial qualification.
Show of hand voting might work for an ancient Greek elite standing on a hillside and even for several hundred trade unionists at a factory gate (those were the days!) but is not very practical for a country-wide franchise, or even a city-wide franchise...until now, that is. Technology has enabled us to exercise an electronic version of a show of hands via online voting that could make "democracy" in its purest sense a reality. Online petitions have been available for some time now and the UK government, ever mindful of activating support, has promised that e-petitions of more than 100,000 signatories channelled through its website with receive automatic attention in parliament.
Whilst this sounds fine in principal, it raises many questions. What if the response in parliament is a cursory debate in the small hours of the morning? According to the government's own statistics, the resident population of the UK was estimated to be 61,792,000 in mid-2009. 100,000 people can hardly be called representative. They will be pretty annoyed if they feel that the government has only paid lip service to taking their views into account, making it likely that this sort of attempt at active democracy will backfire on the government and generate more resentment and passivity. Should responses be restricted to UK voters only and how will this be administered? When an MP agreed to sponsor a parliamentary bill chosen by Radio 4's Today programme listeners, he was unhappy with the most popular subject (the "right" of homeowners to defend their property with a defined use of force) which he felt had been hijacked by the American pro-gun lobby. He suggested that this dis-empowered him as an MP. There is also a potential problem of the collection of personal data by the government; fine if one considers the government to be largely benevolent but nevertheless making statistics on individuals’ opinions readily available in much the same way that CCTV has been used to monitor individuals participating in street demonstrations.
How should such petitions be handled? Are they worth signing? Can technology really be harnessed to democratic good or is a pacifier for the masses that leaves individuals vulnerable to political interference?
Technology, low or high, always has various applications and cannot in itself be imbued with value judgements. A rope can be used to hang a man or save him from drowning. Similarly, social networking can be a way of keeping active, healthy friendships current or it can be isolating, reducing "friendships" to online contact only and banishing them to the realms of fantasy.
I have a neighbour who is incapable now of picking up an A to Z to look up a street. What would have taken a couple of minutes takes an age as he boots up, selects an application, guesses at the postcode, tries to get the map to fit a format that his printer can handle etc etc. He even sat on a train, missing glorious scenery outside the window whilst following the journey on his sat nav and interjecting gems such as "we are crossing a river" [yep, I can see that out of the window; I even know what river it is because I just read the sign] and "the train is travelling at 30mph" [didn't need to know that and neither did he]. Don't get me started on his use of chat rooms; suffice to say that he thinks he is boosting his chances of dating by using the pseudonym "Adonis" which he assured me is the title of a Shakespeare play. Couldn't even be bothered to look it up on Wiki it seems.
Whilst we all model and mould the "truth" to suit circumstances, withholding details when brevity is required or to spare feelings, purely online relationships can be conducted with no regard to actualities whatsoever. This eventually must effect users; most of us have been guilty of believing our own publicity at some point in our lives or embroidering the truth to make a good story, which in time, becomes our "memory". Software applications have become very sophisticated and hunching over that screen can be very addictive indeed. It is not just adolescents that can come to replace real interaction with electronic communication.
There are agencies in Japan, that most technologically advanced nation, that supply "friends", "family" and "colleagues" on demand. This includes professional wedding guests to impress the in-laws, indeed hand-picked individuals to impress whomsoever desired it would seem. Who knows, maybe the "in-laws" are actors, supplied by your partner. Who do we trust when so much of a relationship is built on air? Demand for instant friends, family and colleagues is burgeoning, not least as the impossibility of living up to fantasies implodes. The consequences are a modern form of hermitism - there is even a term for it "hikikomori". Sufferers just shut themselves away, minimising contact and becoming violent when challenged.
Where before we might have contacted friends when momentous events happened, heaven forefend even once a year in a round robin, the pressure to be constantly in touch and to update contacts with the minutiae of one's life leads to dangerous introspection. If my life is not so exciting that it is worth tweeting about several times a day, I must be doing something wrong - or I must make it up. It is difficult to resist without sounding like an anchorite or at least a smug git: "I'm too busy DOING things to tell anyone about it"; just as excluding. There must be a middle way, surely? Do tell.
Anyone struggling to get to work on unreliable, expensive, overcrowded public transport or battling through traffic in inclement weather must wonder if working from home would be a better option. Spiralling fares and petrol costs make the thought of eliminating the daily commute even more attractive as wage freezes bite ever deeper into real earnings.
So is it worth working from home? The pattern of work that many office workers take for granted of commuting from home to office is a comparatively recent phenomenon that served the needs of industrialisation from the early nineteenth century onwards. White collar workers were also more likely to live further away from work than, for instance, mine workers in pit villages or agricultural workers in tied housing. The burgeoning transport system that developed around towns and cities developed to meet this need is, certainly in London, almost collapsing under the strain of a much bigger population than it was created to serve as well as years of under-investment.
The demand for home working heralds a return to the artisanal system whereby skilled workers ran family businesses from, often specially adapted, houses. The long, light-yielding windows in weaving towns and extra wide entries to houses in London's Soapsud Island, Acton are a permanent reminder of the not-so-distant past when commuting was not the norm. Initially, workers even controlled the means of production, if not the markets and "Saint Monday" became an extra day off after Saturday's revels and Sunday's piety. It may mean working long into the night to finish work during the rest of the week but at least the choice belonged to the family.
Now, communication technology can mean that working from home is blurring the boundaries between home and office with the worker having little or no control over workloads and timing. Workers have gone from eating breakfast and lunch at their desk (and sometimes not even lunch) whilst working to almost being on call, regardless of whether the job really demands it. Far from being a skiver's charter, working from home can benefit employers who can keep wages down when workers no longer need to pay fares and who save on overheads by hot-desking or teleconferencing.
The initial attractions of that extra hour or so in bed may, however, be offset by the lack of demarcation between work and home. The ability to be in touch 24/7 makes it much harder to switch off mentally: physically leaving work behind can aid in achieving real rest, which benefits employers as much as employees. It is much more efficient to have a healthy, happy workforce who can be counted on to want to stay with your company in the long term, especially when you have invested time and effort in training and establishing relationships.
Obviously flexibility is much easier for large companies than small businesses. It is also easier to take a career break if you have been on a comfortable wage and/or can lean on partners to help financially.
So where does the optimum lie? Is technology a curse or a blessing? Anyone who has struggled with the delays engendered by some teleconferences can attest that it cannot entirely replace the face to face meeting, with all the advantages of being able to observe body language and just get to know colleagues. e-mail can be fraught with mis-interpretation however many emoticons are appended to the text.
Perhaps, as in so many instances, the ideal lies with a balance of both and we must remember to make technology our slave and not our master.
Windows Live Writer 2011 is a blog publishing application which is probably the easiest way to publish your latest blog post. Developed by Onfolio shortly before its acquisition by Microsoft, it is a great tool for every blogger out there and is included for free with Windows Live Essentials 2011. It’s compatible with RSD (Really Simple Discoverability) which in means it will work with… well pretty much any blog platform out there. I am happy to report that Blogengine.net, QBS’ blog platform of choice is supported too. If you are regularly updating your computer you will find it installed on your Windows 7 machine as Microsoft decided to release Windows Live Essentials 2011 via Microsoft Update a couple of weeks ago.
Great, so let’s start. If you haven’t done so you need to download and run Windows Live Essentials 2011 first.
Choose Install all of the Windows Live Essentials (recommended) option.
You will need to wait few minutes for the installation to finish
When the installation is complete, we are ready for the first launch
First you will be presented with the welcome screen. Click Next
Select which blog platform you are using. For Blogengine.net we need to select Other services:
You then need to provide the URL of your blog and the credentials for the account you are using to log in:
Now you are asked if you would like to download the theme from the blog. If you have an existing theme and you are happy with it, select Yes. Otherwise you can use Writer later on to create a theme.
It will then connect to your blog and configure Windows Live Writer 2011.
You will now be asked for your nickname. Please note that your login for the blog rather than this nickname will be used for the author field in the blog post.
And we are finally done:
In the next blog post I will go through cool features of Writer 2011 and share with you a few tips so make sure you subscribe to our RSS feed, because otherwise you might miss it.
If you have any questions or comments please make sure you use the comments field.