Tag: business

When is the right time to think about Disaster Recovery?

When is the right time to think about Disaster Recovery?

 

Spring rains bring on more than just flowers or in my case, weeds.  The phone started ringing early the other morning.  My coffee was still brewing when the continuous ring of the phone demanded me instead of the regular answering service.

It would seem that lightning hit a pole close to one of my clients.

Lightning is far from respectful of your deadlines or the amount of work that your staff has lined up to accomplish.  From simple power outages to fire, lightning all by itself is a disaster in the making.  Some simple steps ahead of time can keep your company from being a victim to what this client was.

One girl had her headset in when the lightning struck and was shocked. Happily, she is ok, but their systems were not so fortunate.  Had the grounding been worse; she may have been the path to ground.

Once the power was restored the server, router, and switch, did not recover.

The one machine on a UPS died as the power went out.

What went wrong?

Surge protectors have a finite lifetime.  People buy these power strips with surge protectors and forget about them.  Surge protectors are nothing more than a power strip with something in them known as a “Metal Oxide Varistor or MOV.”

Any power surge above an acceptable voltage is clamped or shorted to ground by this device.  The problem is the MOV only last so long before it no longer functions.  Every time there is any spike in the line from compressors shutting off to other electronic “noise” these components are adversely affected.

What is better?”

A UPS of enough wattage to allow the computer to be safely powered down in the event of a power failure.  Along with the backup power ability, these devices have more sophisticated line conditioning circuitry protecting your equipment from stray voltage spikes.

One note to remember, these too only last so long before they must at least be maintained, or replaced.  Any CIO worth his salt is familiar with Hardware asset management and has this is mind for his budget.  CEO’s hate surprises like unexpected expenses.  It is much easier to argue a budgeted expense than going hat in hand begging forgiveness for your ineptitude.

Suffer a catastrophe like this client, hope your boss does not hire someone like me to do a root cause analysis.

At the very least batteries must be changed out but keep in mind that an MOV is also part of that piece of hardware.  I would budget the replacement of a UPS, rather than just the batteries if it were me.

Unless you have electrical engineers on staff, who are qualified to re-certify that equipment, it is too cheap not just to replace it.

 

Along with outdated hardware or not enough of it, I have seen too many times the ground plug defeated to save a dollar from an electrician.   Those ground plugs are there for your protection, not because someone wanted to make it difficult for you.  The problem with temporary is all too often it becomes permanent.

Lightning struck outside one of my client’s offices hitting a pine tree.  Finding the electrical ground for the building, which was poorly grounded, everything in the building suffered a power surge knocking out much of their equipment.

Many times, building management will only do what is necessary by code and leave the gamble up to you the tenant.

Depending upon your location, achieving a good ground could be difficult.  The type of soil must is taken into account among other things. Again, depending upon your location, you might want to invest in grounding your building with lightning protection equipment including lightning rods or now they call them “air terminals.”  The idea is to have some amount of confidence that if lightning hits, it will strike your planned target and be dissipated safely into the earth.

Since all computer equipment and now phones are wired through the network, this last customer lost computers and phones along with the network infrastructure.

Failure to plan is planning to fail.

The cost of the hardware and time to repair was minimal, compared to the amount of time the company was out of business.

Insurance will only get you so far.  As these spring storms fire up, there is a real element of danger to your building, business and, like the one young lady found out, to her person.  Had proper grounding been utilized I doubt the girl would have felt the shock in her ears.

While a tested, reliable disaster recovery plan will allow you to sleep at night, preventing the disaster in the first place is what you should shoot for.  That starts with planning.

From your building security to network security, right down to protecting your infrastructure from mother nature, accounting for every contingency is paramount.

Truth told, there are seldom good surprises in business.  Mitigating the surprises with proper planning can prevent poor performance.  Asking “what if” is key to any plan.  Weighing cost vs. probability allows anyone with some business acumen to make sound decisions without breaking the bank. Understanding the risks, are the starting point.

 

-Best

 

I want a good deal! #Rapidprint #Widmer

I want a good deal! #Rapidprint #Widmer

I want a good deal! #Rapidprint #Widmer

TimeDok Logo
WWW.TimeDok.Com

How many time have you yourself searched and searched online to find the best deal?

We are all guilty of looking for the best deal and if we can save a few dollars, we are all for it. How could you not be?

The truth of the matter is, the best deal is not always the best deal.

I submit to you “Radio Shack.”

Why has Radio Shack become the latest victim to go by the wayside?

What is its competition?

As far as small components are involved they have little competition, most probably a small percentage of folks order direct from China however there are very few specialty electronic stores who specialize in small electronic components.

radio_shack_store

Fry’s electronics being one of the largest.

Small hand held or other consumer grade electronics would also be Fry’s, Best Buy, and to some extent Wall-mart to name a few.

Cell Phones have way too much competition including the carriers themselves.

Radio Shack indeed has survived past its time with all of the competition and one has to wonder how much of it actually comes from China direct.

On-line sources such as Amazon and eBay are probably responsible for more than just a few dollars going away from the retail giants here in the states and I would imagine that we will soon see legislation introduced by someone in the pocket of the large retail chains to levy heavy taxes on imports from China by way of eBay and other online partners.

ebay_logo
eBay Logo

While the “Walmart Effect” took out the mom and pop shops all across America other big box stores will put the nail in the coffin of the smaller stores who try and sell consumer electronics.

WalMart
WalMart Electronics Department

As a business Owner; I sell and service a device that is made lock stock and barrel here in the USA.  Because these two companies that I represent have not farmed their stuff out overseas the prices are higher than what you would expect.  The interesting thing though is that these devices last for over 10 years and even with abuse can usually be resurrected and sent back into to the office for another 10 years.

productline1ad
Full Rapidprint line of file mark machines.
t3led-127x153
Widmer T-LED 3 Time Stamp File Mark machine
Widmer Check Signing Machine  300 checks in about a minute.
Widmer Check Signing Machine 300 checks in about a minute.

One interesting aspect of this is there are Internet companies that sell a plethora of equipment including my two lines and they depend upon volume to make ends meet.  Doing so, they sell with little markup and make it tough on the little guys to compete as we don’t do volume. Basically what WalMart does.

While my prices are competitive, I am not the cheapest.  I provide something that most internet companies do not however, I provide service.  That is service after the sale!

http://www.timedok.com/gallery.html

Many companies find me after they have had an unpleasant experience with one of my competitors and I earn their business as well.  While I may not have made the original sale I get their subsequent business because I stepped up and actually lost money doing a warrantee repair for their customer!

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Electrical tape has no place in these machines.

My point to all of this is simply don’t look for the cheapest, look for the best.

I build relationships with all of my clients and work hard to keep them. I must however turn a profit to stay in business.

There are times I feel like one of the last American business hold outs as I have managed to stay in business while many of my competitors are going or have gone by the wayside.

The technology involved is over 30 years old.  Very few know how to repair these things as there are so many variables that must be taken into account when they are disassembled and re-assembled after the cleaning process that one missed step will cause the machine to not perform accurately.

There are no shortcuts.  They might use a Band-Aid of sorts, but it is a shortcut and will not last.

There is an air-conditioning advertisement on the radio here in North Texas.  They de-bunk the outrageous prices the other guys offer and then tell you to call the other guy first, check out their prices and then call them.  Honesty above reproach.

I don’t know if that commercial is gaining traction, but it caught my attention as that is the way I do business.

Do business with the mom and pop companies, if you want them to stick around.  Small towns all across America have vacant store fronts because of retail giants and I would submit, online direct from China.

© 2015 Timedok All Rights Reserved

www.TimeDok.com

Dok at TimeDok.com

Disasters Big and Small

Disasters Big and Small

As a Disaster Recovery Specialist, I walk into many companies that are one step away from disaster.  Some of them have been living on a wing and a prayer for a long time and are absolutely oblivious to the precipice on which they are perched.

One of the largest challenges one faces in this line of work are people.  By that I mean more specifically egos.  People are threatened by someone that “knows more than they do.” 

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Let me tell you a secret.  This is a Jack Palance type secret, (from City Slickers) “This is the one thing” that will save your keister as well as change your attitude.

 I worked for a man who owned this business that was very successful.  I was a young guy fresh out of school and this guy saw something in me that I remember to this day. As time passed he took me under his wing and helped me knock some of the rough edges off of my “perception” of the world as it was.  He took me out one day to JC Penny and had some sales clerk measure me for a suite and then he picked out a couple of them.  We went to the shirts and he purchased a few of them right down to the shoes.  While these were not super expensive, they were not cheap and his generosity never escaped me. The only thing that he did not replace were my shorts!  Some might have taken offence to this but I am no creature of fad or style and while I would not qualify for a candidate on “what not to wear,” I did know that style was not my strong suite.  “Knowing your limitations” is good advice, but not the secret.

Later he had me take over the service manager position in one of his branches which came with a company car and credit card.  This was before the tax laws changed.  He told me to use the car as I wished and if I took it on vacation to at least “pay for some of the gas myself.”  He took me over to the office which was a good drive from the Dallas office.  He regaled me with stories of advertisement and marketing.  He told me the story of the sign with the waterfall on it by downtown Dallas.  Back then it was a Pearl Beer sign.   This man was pretty close to deaf.  He was from Georgia and his accent was still very thick.  It turns out that he was a tank commander in WWII.  He told me that the secret to survival is to “surround yourself with smart people.”  That not only applies to war, but business and oh yes, life in general.  If you want to be successful, surround yourself with people smarter than yourself and learn to humble yourself.  It is only by this step of humbling yourself will you realize the advantage of being around these people.  I have never forgotten this and to this day I still practice this.

I offer this advice to all IT people in that “you are not the end all be all.”  You cannot know it all even though you think that you do.  We become focused on what interest us and then the rest of technology passes us by.  Learn to control your ego for it is your enemy.  No doubt you have heard the phrase “you are your own worst enemy.” Think of the truth of this statement and then marry it, own it and then change it.  When someone starts talking to you about something which you think you know about and you feel that “anxiousness” start to well up inside, recognize this for what it is, you’re undoing.  Squelch the feeling, take a deep breath and listen to what this person has to say.  It may be worthy of hearing or it may be total crap. Before long this will be habit and you will have trained your ego to stand down.

One of the first steps in the DR process is an AUDIT.  In order to prepare for a disaster one has to know what one has.  This is done by an audit of the technology, how it is configured and of course managed. We look at policies and procedures and just really get into your business in a big way.  The more you work with us the more you will get out of it.  Conversely the more truculent or evasive that your staff is, the more it will cost.  This is a “by the hour” service and time is money.

Audits are never fun but necessary, in that no one is perfect.  Audits uncover the “dirt” so to speak and no one wants to acknowledge that they have dirt.  Nobody wants to look bad so they are either un-helpful or become very defensive and blame the guy before them and so forth.  No one in their right mind would welcome an IRS audit because of this.  You know that you are playing by the rules but the rules are thousands of pages long.  What if?  Individuals should budget for an accountant for this reason.  Companies should have more than one accountant “even if it is a small company” in that they can check one another. (another story for another blog)

While IT audits wont land you in front of a judge, it could have an effect on the bottom line in that deficiencies could be uncovered which could end up in with un-budgeted expenditures.  Having an up to date DR and BC plan will not only prevent this but, will keep your IT department on their toes and up to date.  A fresh set of eyes looking at how things are done contrasted against your business processes and needs, often bear fruit in that there may be a better way to do things. Personally I subscribe to “best practice” methodologies and policies.

Some companies don’t take IT seriously and look at it only as a necessary evil.  An attitude which must be changed as IT is much more than a necessary Evil.  IT is a resource which ties the entire company together.  This department is the glue that binds most departments together as well as the interface between the customer and the company.  In looking at the want ads occasionally one might notice ads for IT people with the following “PC Wizard” needed.  Really?  Does this person come from over the rainbow?  The simple facts are that some HR people are totally bereft of any ability to interview for this position and the company as a whole does not take the department very seriously.  I would liken this to the “audio visual club” at school.  Know this all you who mock them, the nerds will inherit the earth. I digress..

If you really look at the way that your technical infrastructure touches every person in your company and your customers; your attitude on this matter might change.

During the process of a disaster recovery plan, this becomes very clear in that one of the pieces of this plan is a Business Impact analysis.  It is during this process that the lights turn on in the CEO’s, or CFO’s head.  I have heard the question posed to the CIO or CFO on many occasions “why hasn’t anyone told me this?” The simple facts are that the CEO’s job is to run the company, not the IT department.  He or she depends upon the CIO to look out for the company on all things IT and a DR plan is simply one small part of it.

Simple programs like asset management and S.A.M. “software asset management” are not only not in play, but not even thought of.  How can one budget for new stuff if one has no clue what one will need down the road?  A complete Asset management program should be SOP in any company.  This program accounts for hardware from the cradle to grave.

The same is true regarding software.  Often time’s, companies pay way too much for software as it is installed by policy on computers with users who will never use it.  Users may bring in their own software and install it, leaving a liability for the company to contend with should there be a software audit and it is done by the SBA.

While there are no good surprises in business there are certainly no good surprises after an event has been suffered by a company.  A fire in the data center could take the entire company out of the marketplace for good.

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Fire caused by poor cable management practices.

Human error accounts for a large percentage of the events which caused companies to fail.  Doing a root cause analysis on failed companies who suffered a disaster you find that they did not value such a thing as “it will never happen to me.”  You don’t have to suffer a Sandy or Katrina type event to bring your business to its knees.  A simple mistake from some employee, working for a company without a business continuity or disaster recovery plan can ruin your day, if not your career.

It is at this time many companies wish that they had spent the money on such a plan.  Too Late… If you fail to plan you plan to fail.

You can purchase insurance which will assist with the closing of the company but, that is not the way to go out of business, with a whimper, because you failed to plan.

Updated documentation of your infrastructure otherwise known as a “living document,” should also be SOP.  IT folk absolutely do not like documentation, more specifically creating it.  There are many schools of thought on this reason, but I suspect that laziness along with a “need” to have proprietary information so they are not expendable weighs somewhere in their decision.  If the latter is your reason for not doing what is right for the company you need to re-examine your life. 

If you are taking the paycheck you owe your employer the best that you can offer.  If you managers feel like you have people in your department who are not expendable you need to address this post haste!  One rule of preventing a disaster is avoiding single points of failure; and that means people as well.

Part of disaster recovery is averting disasters to begin with!  Through solid best practices in policies and procedures, a large percentage of disasters can be negated.

One last topic on the subject that comes up from time to time.  “Do I have a legal obligation to have a DR/BC plan?

The answer is not as clear cut as one would like.  The interesting thing however from a legal perspective is that there is legal precedence whereby companies were held liable for failing to provide a more error tolerant system.  They in fact were found to be negligent and case law purports to award large sums of cash to the plaintiff.  These cases not only hold the owners of the company negligent but any and all officers of the company are liable.  Think carefully about that promotion and VP title.

While companies are apathetic towards spending the money on such a plan, doing so is not only moral, it is strategic and most likely a legal obligation.  As Billions of dollars are spent annually on technology to maintain a competitive edge “standards of care” and due diligence are required of all corporations both public and private.  Not having such a plan violates the fiduciary standard of care.

-Best to you!

staylor@guard-protect.com

www.guard-protect.com

 

Effectively communicating and succeeding as a Manager, using Speech and Non-Verbal Techniques

ImageWhen you see the word “speech” it may conjure up that heart stopping moment when we are ask to get up in front of the class, a group of peers, or perhaps in front of hundreds of people and give a talk.  Even if you are the SME (subject matter expert,) that does not make it easier to get up in front of a bunch of folks and talk.  (With lots of practice it gets easier.)

Today; that is not the topic of this particular blog.  Today I would like to address how we communicate as employers or managers to our subordinates.

I could not help but notice how some managers, “ask” their subordinates to accomplish some task.  Really? .. ASK?

If I were “asked” if I wanted to sweep the floor, or some other mundane task, my immediate response (possibly just in my head) would be “hell no!”  If I have a choice, the choice is “let someone else do it.”

If on the other hand, I am instructed to sweep the floor (not asked,) I will grab the broom and go about sweeping the floor.

My point is, not only in verbal communication do we “Weaken our speech” with seemingly innocuous phrases like “if you don’t mind, if it is ok with you, how would you feel about, when you have time to…” and the list goes on.  We in fact loose authority and run the risk of sabotaging our project, when we weaken our speech.

So when you speak as a manager, use that authority that you have been granted with that title.    Do not ask how someone would feel about this or that.  Tell them what and when you want this or that done, and do not give them the option of telling you how to run your department or business.  When they earn the title of boss, then they can tell their subordinates how they want things done, right now, it is your turn.  This of course comes with the understanding that you have done your due diligence. That you know what is going on with each part of whatever it is that you are working on; and know what each and every employee is doing.

We also do this in e-mail or other interoffice memos. The main difference with e-mail and memos is that once in writing, it is there forever, for anyone who may be copied in on it, or it gets forwarded to.

We are in fact judged by how we speak, or write.  Whether it is the politically correct thing to do or not, “we do it!”  We all do it!  Remember that old axiom “better to keep your mouth shut and people think you a fool lest you open your mouth and remove all doubt?”  Sometimes we are forced to open our mouths, so educate yourself before you reach that point.

While e-mail has become the norm as far as communication with peers and alike, many of us did not take English class too seriously, and it shows!  No time like the present to learn how to craft simple e-mails.  Once you “pen it” and hit that magic send button, you have no idea the life that it will take on, where it will go, and who all will read it.

I once authored a memo that went to a corporation of over 30,000 folks.  There was a typo in the memo (you instead of your) and while my supervisors were no literary geniuses, and took a screw-them if they can’t take a joke attitude, I was mortified. Treat e-mails and memo’s as if they are “IED’s or road side bombs with a hair trigger.”  Do not get in a hurry when writing an e-mail that may be seen by your boss, or potential boss. Spell check, read it out loud, and if you have a trusted friend, ask them to proof it.  One trick that I find that works is to print it, and read it from the paper.  I realize that on “earth week” that is probably not the most politically correct thing to say, but it is true!  I am not one for political correctness anyway; I think we have taken it way too far.  That is another topic for another blog.

When I first entered into the corporate world, which seems like yesterday; the executive dictated a letter to his secretary.  She wrote it down on a steno pad, in something called “greg shorthand” and then went about the task of typing it up.  She would then put the letter (draft) into his in box where he would read it, mark it up, make changes and then she would once again type it up.  This process could go on all day.  There was a study done once that concluded the average business letter cost about $100, back in the 70’s.

Today we have no secretary to “fix it” and make it pretty.  People from the board-room to the mail room have the same e-mail, which connects not only to everyone in the corporation, but to the outside world. We no longer write many formal letters, as e-mail, text (sms) and instant message is on our desktop.  Are you beginning to get a sense of how important that English class was that you slept through?

How many times have you read something that someone has written and found a typo, or a grammatical error?   I frequently find them in books that have reputable publicist.  What is the first thing that you do or think?  Yep, we judge them.  We either think that they are not very smart, or very clever, or we may even question where they went to school, or if they did.

“The pen is mightier than the sword” is not simply something for writers to gloat about (which they should not do, as most writers could probably not even lift a sword,) it is in fact a powerful tool.  Unfortunately, like Damocles sword it is double edged, and is indeed hanging by a thread. Be very careful and deliberate what you write; keeping the audience and secondary audiences in mind.

I heard an impressive lady the other day who said, she speaks her opinions like they are facts!  They are indeed “her facts!”  She claims that she is perceived as a bitch, and I can see that.  Is that wrong?  Should she care how she is perceived?  I for one was very impressed by her talk, and I am not easily impressed.  In management we are entrusted by our superiors to get the job done, and your employees become “your tools.” While I don’t use the phrase “tool” in the pejorative manner that we hear it used today, employees are in fact implements of and end to a means.  The manager uses the expertise of his or her employees, to reach an objective or several objectives.  If they start asking their subordinates to do this or that, their timelines may suffer as well as the project(s) as a whole.  When you give up that authority to your employees, (when you have time) you are no longer an effective manager.  Your employees usually don’t have the whole picture or the sense of commitment or urgency to the project or end goal which you do!  Clear task with authoritative language broken down into milestones and expectations set by you are mandatory, if you are to succeed as a manager.

If you think about it, you are actually leading and mentoring by example.  Employees (not just yours) watch you.  They observe more than you think, and that includes the two hour lunch, or the fact that you passed gas on your way to the bathroom.  You are held to a higher standard. It is probably not fair but it is the way of the hourly vs the salaried employee.  They are long gone by the time the managers day usually ends; but they are not there for that.

So instead of “how do you feel about coming to work on time” vs. “the office opens at 8, and I want you here.  If you can’t do that, I will find someone who can.”  Will the latter earn you the title of bitch or bastard? Who cares?  When they work for you, they play by your rules, not theirs.  If you worry about how your employees perceive you, than your are in the wrong line of work.

To be fair, if they have issues getting to work on time, you probably need to find someone else to do the job anyway.  Conversely, if you have good employees, as I have been blessed with on so many occasions, I will go out of my way to take care of them in compensation, training, bonuses etc. While there is no need to deliberately alienate your employees, they are not your friends; and you are not theirs.  At the office there is an expected decorum that must be adhered to; not only by them, but by you as well.  The phrase “it is lonely at the top is not just a phrase, but can be a way of life, at least from 8 to 5.

One last piece of advice that I will share that is a little off topic, “Never under any circumstance hire anyone that you cannot fire!” I want you to go back and read that again.  Read that until it sticks!  Make certain that you have no sacred cows working for you.  By that I simply mean, everyone; “including you” is replaceable.  If you own a company and you have certain employees that you cannot live without, change it fast!  No one should be held hostage by having to keep someone around because they are the boss’s kid, or they are the only one who knows this or that program or system; or they are “your friend!” The largest screw-up that I see constantly is that there is no documentation, anywhere on the systems, processes, key players, vendors etc.

If you want to see how survivable your business is, run a disaster recovery drill with non-key players or bring in temporary employees from a staffing firm that have the skill set, just not the experience with your company.  Then using your “living document,” re-create your business in a hot site.  If that does not go well for you, and you want to fix it, call me!  http://www.guard-protect.com

Hope this helps!

-Best to you and those that you care about!

“Offer only good to new subscribers”

“Offer only good to new subscribers”

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Customer loyalty used to be important to companies who offered subscriptions to whatever it was that they sold. This could be a magazine or cable TV.

How many times have you seen a cable TV ad offering the same service that you have for less money , “for new subscribers only?”

I had been with my cable TV provider for 16 years when I realized that by switching I could get faster internet, less expansive phones service with free long distance and oh yes, every premium channel offered for half the cost of what I was currently paying. This included offers that expired in 12 and 18 months but even after the promos expired, I would still be saving $100 or more.

There are other services like satellite radio. If you call up and use the magic word “cancel” you will you will transferred to “retention specialist” who has the flexibility to make you a better deal. Why don’t they offer you a better deal to begin with?

There are other subscription services that I pay for where special deals are offered to new customers, including books. Truthfully I would like the book offered but I am already a supporter / subscriber so, too bad. I would guess that if I were to call and cancel and then sign up again, I could get the book but that is rather disingenuous, not to mention a lot of trouble.

My power company on the other hand contacted me about the time my contract with them was to expire and offered me a better deal to re-sign up with them. Had I done nothing, it would have stayed with them by default so, if you want a good power company and cheaper electricity contact me via comment.

While I realize that “offer only good to new subscribers” has become the default way of doing business, I for one think that it “stinks on ice.”

-Best to you and those that you care about !