WiFi

Free WiFi at Starbucks?31 Oct

Ina Sebastian at Jupiter Research wrote about a ComputerWorld prediction that Starbucks will evenutally offer free WiFi service.  Personally, I avoid Starbucks in favor of coffee shops that offer free connections.  My guess is that Starbucks has found this to be a popular stance.  I believe free WiFi will become expected and that SMBs will be able to offer real value to their customers through creative use of this connectivity. 

Question: You run a destination type SMB like Starbucks.  How do you use the WiFi service you are offering them to build a community of your customers?  Do you allow them to engage each other a la Facebook or MySpace?  Do you give them the opportunity to "speak" to you directly?

Software development

Don’t Do That Custom Development!31 Oct

I wrote about the importance of SMBs keeping processes and systems simple.  I recently began work with a new client that was searching for ways to increase knowledge sharing across their organization.  They were just starting the development of a new corporate intranet.  They had spec’d out their needs and identified a sub-site to have custom developed.  The analysts and developers did a nice job and it looks great.

But I recommended they hold on the custom development.  They needed to evaluate MS Sharepoint’s capabilities before proceeding.  Why?  The basic corporate intranet portal has been built 100+ times already.  Sharepoint, Plone, Liferay, JBoss, DotNetNuke and many others are decent out-of-the-box foundations for an internal site.  So there’s just no reason to pursue custom development for this type of project. 

But why Sharepoint?  This client is also upgrading their core enterprise system.  Turns out that the system based on a MS platform and uses Sharepoint for document management.  Doesn’t it make a lot of sense to evaluate whether or not the platform used by your core enterprise system will work for the rest of your needs as well?

Right now, they seem to like Sharepoint and we’re now doing a test project to prove it to the company.  If the test fails, there are other options.  But custom development for an intranet should be a last resort.

Solutions

Lotus Symphony Test Ends With a Resounding Thud31 Oct

I posted that I’d be trying out the new Lotus Symphony suite of office productivity tools.  Well that didn’t take.  I probably should have changed over the file properties for xls, doc, and ppt files to open with Symphony.  Since I didn’t, I hardly used the tools at all.

Here’s the rub with Symphony and the other MS Office alternatives.  Microsoft Office reached dominance not because of the functions that your average user cares about and that every basic office suite does well.  The tools were widely adopted because introductory level developers (like me) were able to quickly build department level applications that helped improve staff productivity.  In the absence of any real developer tools, I don’t believe Lotus Symphony or any other MS Office alternative has a shot at being anything more than a niche product.

I hate that I didn’t do a decent evaluation of the Lotus tools.  But the reality is that I spend my time working with tools that fit the environments my clients have in place.  As long as organizations have one person who has gone past the basic data entry functions of Excel, I will never convince them that an Office alternative will work for them.  And if they’re so small that they don’t have a serious investment in MS Office, why would I ever recommend they start out using tools that can’t be extended as their needs grow?

Business

Computer Disposal and Recycling15 Oct

As today is Blog Action Day, I thought I’d write about a simple environmental action that every SMB can take.  Here in Billings, the local government finds it perfectly acceptable to throw your old PCs, monitors and other electronic equipment in the dumpster.  Trash collection here will take just about anything.  But the fact is that old PCs, monitors, printers, cell phones, PDAs and other electronic equipment contain many materials that are harmful to the environment or to humans.  The EPA estimates 1-4% of all municipal waste is due to old electronic equipment.  So do us all a favor and recycle that old junk!

There are plenty of ways to dispose of your old equipment in a safe, inexpensive and responsible manner.  Here are just a few:

  • Donate old PCs to local non-profits.  Computer4Kids is a great cause in the Billings, MT.  They refurbish your old equipment and give them to at-risk youth in our area.  Any equipment that can’t be used is broken down for parts and recycled.
  • Pay someone to recycle electronic equipment for you.  Just check the Yellow Pages for lots of options.
  • Tap into a PC manufacturer’s recycling program.  Dell has a great program where they will recycle your old equipment for free when you purchase a system from them.

One final note, if you store sensitive information on your PC, make sure you at least format your hard drive before passing it on.  If you’ve got really sensitive information on there, you might actually want to remove the hard drive altogether.  A hammer or mallet will make quick work of making sure nobody can ever get that data!

Web design

Web Design for Dummies10 Oct

I’m an avid reader of Seth Godin’s blog.  His latest post states that companies waste too much time on original web design.  Your web site isn’t supposed to be a work of art.  It’s supposed to be a window into your business for your customers.  If you sell, then make it easy to buy.  If you provide services, make it easy to understand what you do and how those services can be procured.  Start with a site that you like, and have your designer build from there.

The only thing I’d add to his post is that you don’t have to limit your up front research to looking at existing sites.  There are thousands of free or very inexpensive site templates that can be modified to fit your tastes.  Look on oswd.org or Google "website templates" for tons of resources.  Don’t spend time or money reinventing the wheel.

Contact Me

Granite Peak Systems, LLC
PO Box 80892
Billings, MT 59108
Tel: 406-672-8292
Email: trupsis@granitepeaksys.com

Kiva

Since 2007, I have funded a Kiva account in recognition of my clients. Whenever I get a new client, or find a microloan that relates to the industries my clients serve, I contribute to the account. You can see my lender profile here:

http://www.kiva.org/lender/gpsclients