IT Management

6 Reasons Businesses Fail at IT08 Oct

This is a blog about technology for the small and mid-sized business. So when I read a recent Harvard Business Review article about decisions IT executives should not be making, I had to comment. The article intends to say that well-meaning IT executives can’t possibly be responsible for the business impacts of their decisions. So they should stick to the technical details and let the rest of the executive suite worry about the success of the business.

I’m no Harvard MBA, but Ms. Ross and Mr. Weill have it all wrong. Companies that follow their advice are doomed to mediocre IT performance. Here are the six decisions they say are best left to non-IT execs, and why I think they’re off-base.

HBR: “How much should we spend on IT?”

Reality: Does the head of marketing decide how much to spend on accounting staff or tools? No. If your CIO or head of IT is not capable of understanding your business goals and planning a budget to meet those needs, then you’ve got the wrong person in that position.

HBR: “Which business processes should receive our IT dollars?”

Reality: It’s smart to selectively approve IT projects. But don’t forget that most IT funds are spent maintaining existing systems or on infrastructure requirements. Business executives forget about last year’s projects much less that project from 5 years ago.

HBR: “Which IT capabilities should be firmwide?”

Reality: This statement blatantly contradicts the author’s assertion that technical implementation details should be left to the IT execs. Again, if your CIO is not capable of understanding your business enough to develop an operational model that supports it, you need a new CIO.

HBR: “How good do our IT services need to be?”

Reality: The authors suggest to not let IT execs push for the “Cadillac” when a “Buick” is all that’s needed. Are you kidding me? Certainly all executives like to provide the best tools possible to their teams. But just try to imagine the CFO allowing the CIO or head of marketing to state how good the accounting services need to be!

HBR: “What security and privacy risks will we accept?”

Reality: Of the 6 points, this one is actually the most reasonable. The business needs to understand and accept the tradeoffs between convenience and security. But it’s the CIO’s responsibility to educate the business and help them find that balance. After all, the CIO is likely to be named in any HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley lawsuit!

HBR: “Whom do we blame if an IT initiative fails?”

Reality: If you’re thinking this way, it’s a bad sign for your business. Change your mindset now. You should be thinking, “How can I help ensure that IT initiatives helping me achieve my goals are a success.”

In the end, the HBR article fails to comprehend the true nature of IT’s role in the enterprise today. To be sure, there are companies who run their IT departments this way. But we know that companies that use IT strategically grow faster and are more profitable than those who don’t. Viewing the IT department as a cost center that needs to be tightly controlled by non-IT executives is certainly not a strategic way to do business.

Software development

Joys and Perils of Microsoft Access04 Oct

One of the greatest developments in office software suites has been the desktop database.  People have done some pretty complex things with relative ease using tools like Microsoft Access.  Now, online databases such as DabbleDB and ZohoDB are advancing the tool and allowing companies to collaborate outside their own borders using secure databases.

I have a love/hate relationship with MS Access.  Way back when, I spent a lot of time doing Microsoft Office development and Access was a favorite tool of mine.  I liked that I could easily hook up to the enterprise databases, pull the information I needed and integrate it with any other application I happened to build. 

But people who do Access development full time tend to get trapped into that box.  When the task becomes greater than the tool, they simply find ways to make it work.  And that leads to problems.

Nowadays I spend a lot of time supporting an Access database that has outgrown its skin.  I’m rebuilding the application with a SQL Server back end, and ASP.NET and Sharepoint on the front end.  But it’s a really slow process because there are so many business rules hard coded into the VBA.  Identifying the code that has to be there versus what was done inefficiently is a real chore.  And all the while I spend time helping users through crashes, data corruption, and reports that aren’t tying out.

So, here’s my advice of the day.  Use Access.  Or Dabble or Zoho.  They’re great tools and fill a need.  But when you need more than a couple users, have rigorous security requirements, need sophisticated data entry forms, or have complex reporting needs, it’s time for a different tool.  Don’t put this off.  Your application will only become more complex over time.  And you’ll end up spending a lot of time and money supporting the application instead of improving your business.

Solutions

Timeforce Time and Attendance System02 Oct

Back at the beginning of 2007, I signed a reseller agreement with Qqest Software Systems, maker of the Timeforce time and attendance system. I had implemented Timeforce for a client after a comparison of the system with comparable systems from Kronos and ADP. I found that the Timeforce system has a great breadth of features and is much less expensive than its larger competitors.

And after I learned that one of my other clients used Timeforce as well, I figured that signing the agreement would do two things:

  • Improve the level of service I was providing my clients, and
  • Open up another line of revenue for my growing consulting business.

However, in considering the agreement I forgot that the main mission of a reseller is to expand the vendor’s sales reach. There’s no way for a reseller to provide a greater level of support than the vendor. You can be more responsive to the client, and you can use the tools that the vendor provides to move support closer to the client. But you can’t support their product better than they can. And if the vendor chooses to focus on sales over client support, then there’s not much a reseller can do.

I recommend that any business in need of a time management system evaluate Timeforce. There are certain company types for whom Timeforce is definitely not a great solution. So I’d be happy to assist you in your evaluation.

But as often happens with lower cost products, Qqest has to focus on new sales in order to grow. Any reseller whose core business is reselling Timeforce will be in a similar situation, since they only receive a percentage of the sale. Understand this going in, and you will likely be very pleased with your experience.

Solutions

First Impressions of Lotus Symphony01 Oct

Microsoft Office is undeniably the leader of office productivity suites.  It’s a standard throughout all businesses and the need to have it installed on your PCs is almost a given.  But free or open source alternatives are available.  I’d used Open Office before and never really got excited by it.  That might have been my own fault though…I was trying it on a Mac and I’m not a proficient Mac user.  Competent, but not proficient.

Anyway, I don’t think open source alternatives to MS Office will ever be viable until someone puts millions of dollars into refining the software over 3 or 4 major versions.  So when I heard that IBM had released a version of Open Office, I figured I should try it out.  They’ve got the ability to dedicate this type of commitment if they really want to.

Lotus Symphony consists of the basic modules everyone needs – Spreadsheets (i.e., MS Excel), Documents (i.e., MS Word) and Presentations (i.e., MS PowerPoint).

I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the software downloaded and installed.  I don’t have an exact timing, but I seem to recall my last MS Office installation taking over an hour to install.  Of course, that was MS Office 2007 Enterprise which also installed Access, InfoPath, Outlook and Publisher.  In retrospect, I guess I should have expected the trimmed down offering from IBM to install much more quickly.

The interface looks ok.  It’s certainly not familiar like MS Office.  In the end, this may be the one thing that dooms all open office suites.  But I got used to the new MS Office ribbon, and I’m sure I can get used to Symphony’s toolbars.

I’m really going to try to use Symphony over the coming weeks.  I’m going to try to keep an open mind and work with the product as exclusively as I can.  I readily admit that I’ll be fighting my own biases.  For example, I’ve already got a couple gripes:

  • I can’t open the MS Word template that I use for my business correspondence,
  • Spreadsheets doesn’t highlight a copy area,
  • There’s an extra menu layer with only one option when you select File > Open,
  • You can’t connect Spreadsheets to an ODBC data source to pull data into a file from a database.

I’ll let you know what else I find.  I’m pulling for Symphony.  I really am.  I’d love to be able to recommend a free office suite that handles all the basic functions an SMB needs.  We’ll see if Symphony is up to the task.

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