Deploying software systems to manage a growing organization

Most organizations use software to manage at least these items:

  • Accounting – Perform vital bookkeeping and accounting functions
  • Contacts – Organize and manage clients, prospects, vendors, etc.
  • Operations – Match assets to organization’s need on a daily basis

In organizations with funding limitations, deployment of a software-based system to manage specific functions often starts as a cost-based decision, which can lead to several miscues along the way since cost is only one of the factors that should guide the decision.

I’d categorize deployment options in this manner:

  • Build your own using all-purpose, brand-name, productivity software
  • Purchase stand-alone applications and manually integrate them
  • Deploy an integrated, all-inclusive system
  • Outsource this mess to someone else

I’ll address the first three options now and provide some feedback on deployment.   Outsource is a large topic that will be covered separately.

Build your own

Organizations with a do-it-yourself perspective often turn to the build your own approach; you basically use the functionality of productivity software (like Microsoft Office) to create a custom-built solution.  Generally, this works OK to start, but can be difficult to manage and maintain with growth.

Popular productivity-software options include:

  • Microsoft’s Office suite (currently Microsoft Office 2013), which includes:
    • Outlook to manage contacts, calendar, email, and tasks
    • Excel to create proposals and track financial information
    • Access to build and manage contact and production databases
  • Microsoft Office 365, a Cloud-based alternative to the Microsoft Office suite
  • Google Apps for Business, which is a direct competitor to Microsoft Office 365

When Bryley Systems first started in the mid-1980s, we used Lotus 123 (a then-popular spreadsheet application) as our primary tool for everything financial; it quickly became unwieldy, so we purchased an accounting-software package.

Stand-alone applications

Stand-alone applications target a specific function and provide work-flows and best-practices to address this function through use of the software application.

Stand-alone applications are often categorized by function (as described above):

  • Accounting
  • Contacts
  • Operations

Below is a brief summary of these categories.

Accounting

The accounting system is very important; it automates the various accounting and bookkeeping functions (Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Inventory Control, Payroll, etc.) and provides a shared foundation for other capabilities.

Intuit’s Quicken is easy to use as a checkbook replacement, but QuickBooks is a full-function accounting system that leads this market.  Peachtree is another popular accounting package, but with only a fraction of the market share.  Intaact is making headway in mid-sized businesses.

FindAccountingSoftware.com provides an easy-to-use, online guide at http://findaccountingsoftware.com/software-search/.

Contacts

Contact-management applications permit the input and retrieval of contact information with tracking and communications activities, including scheduling.  (You can manage your contacts within your accounting system, but this becomes less practical as your account base grows.)

ACT was one of the original contact managers and claims to be the market leader.  It is now owned by Sage Software (which also owns Peachtree and other accounting packages) and can be purchased or leased online.

Other popular options include:

  • Salesforce
  • OnContact
  • Prophet

We started with ACT in the early years, but shifted to Prophet in the early 2000s since it integrated with some of our other systems.

For a recent ranking and review, please visit http://contact-management-software-review.toptenreviews.com/.

Operations (both manufacturing and service-delivery)

 

In a manufacturing environment, a production-management system enhances control over materials flow (from raw materials coming into the organization to finished goods flowing out), production resources (tooling, equipment, and employees), and scheduling.  It is the glue that binds these items together, permitting the company to manage its flow of work.

We often see these packages at our manufacturing clients:

  • Exact Macola
  • Exact JobBOSS
  • GlobalShop Solutions
  • IQMS  Enterprise IQ

Capterra lists many of these options at http://www.capterra.com/production-scheduling-software.

Service-delivery management is a bit more diverse; what works for one type of service operation might not be appropriate for another type.  Typically, these are industry-specific solutions.

For example, we started with BridgeTrak, which is a service-ticketing application with scheduling and limited contact management.  It served well for a number of years, but we found it difficult to integrate with our accounting package (Peachtree at the time) and with other applications.

Stand-alone applications can be deployed internally, but many companies exist to assist with this process. Multi-user versions should have a dedicated, Windows-based server or be Cloud-based.

The lines are blurring between stand-alone applications and integrated, all-inclusive systems, but the primary issues with stand-alone systems:

  • They can become separate islands of information
  • They do not readily integrate with one another

Integrated, all-inclusive system

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and PSA (Professional Services Automation) systems integrate all company functions and departments; it provides one repository for all organization data, which is available to all employees.  A related option, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), software is similar, but has less functionality and is often a component of an ERP or a PSA system.

High-end, all-inclusive systems from SAP, Oracle, Epicor, etc. cost hundreds of thousands or even millions to procure and deploy, but integrate every aspect of the organization.  Most large organizations work with one of these vendors and use their software nearly exclusively for all functions.

For mid-sized and smaller companies, there are many accounting-based systems that can be expanded through modules and customization to provide ERP and PSA-class alternatives.  Three of the more-popular options:

  • Microsoft Dynamics/GP (formerly Great Plains)
  • Sage 100 (formerly MAS 90)
  • NetSuite

There are also many software-development firms that focus on a specific, vertical market and provide a complete, market-specific solution.  In the mid-2000s, we chose this direction and purchased a PSA system from ConnectWise which is custom-tailored to our industry.

ConnectWise handles all facets of our business and integrates with our accounting system and with our sales-quoting tool.  All employees are required to enter every scrap of data into ConnectWise; our adopted slogan is “If it is not in ConnectWise, it did not happen”.

We also use QuickBooks, but primarily because it integrates with ConnectWise in a downstream direction.  We create our proposals through QuoteWerks, which integrates with both QuickBooks and with ConnectWise.

The initial investment is significant, but the time spent deploying an integrated, all-inclusive system solution within the organization and training employees can far surpass the cost of the software licensing. It is a demanding process, but it pays big dividends in uniting all functions and groups.

The primary benefits:

  • All functions integrate together
  • The system can usually integrate with other applications
  • All employees use the same interface and share the exact-same information

Deployment

To deploy these packages on-premise (rather than in the Cloud), you would need:

  • Infrastructure hardware – Physical server with reliability items (UPS, RAID, redundant power supplies, backup solution, etc.).  We recommend HP servers, but also support Dell.
  • Infrastructure software – Most business software are compatible with Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server.  Microsoft Exchange Server may be needed for email integration.
  • Infrastructure deployment – Setup the Infrastructure hardware and software (listed above), configure the end-user devices (PCs and mobile), etc.
  • Business software – Usually sold in a series of modules with add-ons and licensed to match your user count.
  • Business-software deployment – Usually sold as a project, which includes all of the setup stages needed to get the business software operational and assist in the transition.  A fair amount of process customization is needed; report customization is also part of this stage.  (Most folk select an internal “champion” or a “deployment team” to evangelize, build enthusiasm, watch-over the process, and keep things on-track.)
  • Training – We recommend several, time-spaced sessions followed by occasional tune-ups to allow acclimation and to provide hand-holding for those that will have the most challenges.

Cloud-based deployments eliminate the Infrastructure stages (except setup of client devices) and price the business software in per-user increments; however, customization and training are still needed.  The major incentives to Cloud-based deployments include:

  • Reduce capital expenditures (Infrastructure equipment and software)
  • Shift to operating expenses on a per-user basis
  • Speed-up time to deploy

Cloud-based deployments requires great trust in the business partner providing these services, but they can free-up cash (by eliminating the need to purchase Infrastructure) and get you setup quicker.

Summary

Many cash-strapped organizations start with build-your-own and later morph to one or a combination of the other three options as they grow.  However, deploying an integrated, all-inclusive system provides significant benefits and is now easier to budget and deploy with Cloud-based alternatives that spread costs over time.

Comparing Cloud-based services – Part 2: Storage

Many Cloud-based services fall into one of these categories:

  • Productivity suites – Applications that help you be more productive
  • Storage – Storing, retrieving, and synchronizing files in the Cloud
  • Backup and Recovery – Backing-up data and being able to recover it
  • Prevention – Prevent malware, typically spam and related components
  • Search – Find items from either a holistic or from a specialty perspective

In this issue, we’ll explore popular options within Storage, the highlighted item above, and compare them with one another.

Storage often comes in a free version with separate professional/business (paid) versions that includes advanced features.  The basic premise is that your data is stored in the Cloud – hopefully in a secure manner with sufficient redundancy – is available from any location on any device, and is synchronized between devices.

Most free versions offer these minimum features:

  • At least 2Gb of storage with synchronization across multiple computers
  • Easy access from mobile devices and PCs via downloadable client software
  • Direct access to files through a web browser
  • File sharing with other users

However, you typically must upgrade to a paid version to receive these capabilities:

  • Access control – Define and control who can access what, where, and when
  • Additional storage – Purchase extra storage once your limit is exceeded
  • Auditing – Identify and record what files are stored where and by whom
  • Integration – Integrate with other platforms (i.e.: Active Directory)
  • Security – Enable advanced encryption and security techniques

Popular services (alphabetically) include:

  • Box – 10 Gb free storage with NetSkope’s second-highest rating
  • Dropbox – 2 Gb free storage with over 200 million subscribers
  • Google Drive – 15 Gb free storage shared with Gmail and Google+ Photo
  • SkyDrive – 7 Gb free storage and integrated within Microsoft Office apps

Box

Box (www.Box.com) is a Q3-2013 leader in Forrester’s “File Sync & Share Platforms”.  It offers a free version, but is built for professional use with available integration to Active Directory and LDAP, security with rotating encryption keys, access control, and auditing.

According to Netskope’s review of Cloud-based applications, Box was the second highest-scoring Cloud application, coming in the number two spot on the NetSkope Q3-2013 Cloud Report.  (Please visit Netskope’s http://www.netskope.com/reports-infographics/netskope-cloud-report-q3-2013 for the complete report.)

My take:  Box is the most-comprehensive offering, but a bit more complex due to its advanced features.  It is a serious choice for those that value advanced features (access control, auditing, integration, etc.) and are willing to pay to get them.

Dropbox

With over 200 million users, Dropbox (www.Dropbox.com) claims market leadership.  It is built upon Amazon’s S3 storage and is easy to use.  The free version offers 2 Gb, but there is a professional (Dropbox Pro) version with greater functionality (and storage) and a business version (Dropbox for Business) that offers team collaboration.  All three versions offer synchronization and file-sharing; the help screens are brief, useful, and entertaining.

My take:  Dropbox is the easiest and most-fun to use, but it has the least amount of free storage and its paid plans are a bit more expensive than others.

Google Drive

Google offers Google Drive (www.GoogleDrive.com) as a stand-alone service or bundled within Google Apps.  The free version offers 15 Gb with synchronization among devices and sharing among peers.  It is a no-frills alternative with little glitz, just reliable storage at reasonable cost.  It is the base of Google Apps.

My take:  Google Drive has fewer doodads and the least amount of whimsy, but it is reliable and offers the greatest amount of free storage.

SkyDrive

Microsoft offers its free version of SkyDrive (www.SkyDrive.com) with seven Gb plus an additional three Gb for students.  SkyDrive is an option in newer versions of Microsoft Office and integrates to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Bing.  You can also “fetch” files from your base computer via web-browser on a remote computer.

My take:  SkyDrive offers the most for the least, although there is some buzz about slow synchronization between devices.  Its “fetch” feature is unique among these alternatives and its integration within Microsoft Office is a killer feature.

Upcoming changes to major Microsoft products

Microsoft Windows 8.1 released on October 18th

The second iteration of Microsoft Windows 8, 8.1, occurred on October 18th.  Significant changes to this operating system include:

  • Boot to Desktop – Yes, you can restore the Start button and bypass the tiles, but don’t expect the traditional Start menu to appear since pressing Start takes you to the live tiles of the current Start screen.  (You can, at least, shut-down from the Start button once again.)
  • Help + Tips – Helpful clues are sequenced to usage, permitting an easier start-up and shortening learning times.
  • Smart Search – Windows 8 Search charm on steroids; all search results, local and otherwise, pooled together in a comprehensive summary.
  • Snap – Open up-to four applications and display them simultaneously on a single screen.

An excellent review of Windows 8.1 by Brad Chapos of PC World is available at http://www.pcworld.com/article/2048508/windows-8-1-review-the-great-compromise.html.  He also provides the top-five reasons to upgrade to Windows 8.1 at http://www.pcworld.com/article/2043268/the-top-5-reasons-to-upgrade-to-windows-8-1.html.

Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 release date was October 18th

Release 2 (R2) of Microsoft Windows Server 2012 is now available. 

Per Microsoft:  “Windows Server 2012 R2 offers exciting new features and enhancements across virtualization, storage, networking, virtual desktop infrastructure, access and information protection, and more.”

Along with this revision, Microsoft increased pricing on Windows Server Data Center to $6,155 and on Remote Desktop Services (RDS) Client Access Licenses (CALs) to $118.

For details, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/windows-server/windows-server-2012-r2.aspx.

The end is near for Windows XP, Office 2003, Server 2003, and Exchange 2003

Microsoft is ending support of Windows XP, its most-popular, desktop-computer operating system, on April 8th, 2014.  In addition, Office 2003, Windows Server 2003, and Exchange Server 2003 will reach end-of-life (EOL) on this date.

Basically, Microsoft will discontinue patching and updating these products, which exposes them to security and compliance risks; it will likely also end support for third-party applications that work with these products.

Microsoft’s message:  Upgrade these products now or risk problems later.

The (near-term) future of computer technology – Microsoft versus Google

The crystal ball is still foggy, but here are my thoughts on Microsoft versus Google and (what I believe is) the battle for world domination.  (Microsoft sales are around $77B, primarily from Windows software (25%), business software (32%), and server software (25%); Google is about $55B with approximately 87% of its revenue from advertising.)

Notice, I did not include Apple:  The big play is between Microsoft and Google and it is occurring across multiple lines:

  • Google (search) versus Bing
  • Microsoft Office versus Google Apps
  • Google Android versus Microsoft Windows

Google (search) versus Bing

In the search-engine market, there is no comparison with Google (#1) capturing an average of 67% of monthly queries in the US while Bing (#2) captures only 17%.  In search, queries equate to advertising revenue, the heart of Google’s success.  (Search is currently not a significant part of Microsoft’s sales.)

Google’s familiar, plain-white background seems functional, but also trendy with the occasional changes to the GOOGLE moniker.  Bing’s full-screen, image-based background usually displays beautiful vistas or current events; the scrollable “Popular Now” bar across the bottom adds an items-of-interest aspect.

Bing (aka Microsoft) suggests comparing the two via www.BingItOn.com.

Winner (by a wide margin) is Google; Bing is interesting, but it will take some major work to break Google’s dominance in this area.

Microsoft Office versus Google Apps

When it comes to productivity applications; Microsoft Office 2013 owns the market at 92% while the newer Office 365, Microsoft’s Cloud-based answer to Google Apps, exceeds $1B per year.  (For details, please see the April 19, 2013Forbes article athttp://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2013/04/19/microsoft-shakes-off-pc-slump-as-office-and-servers-sales-swell/.)

Microsoft continues to focus on Office 365; pricing now starts at $96 per year, new features have been added, and partners can sell this service directly to users.

Although Microsoft productivity applications dominate on the desktop, Google Apps is a serious contender to Office 2013 and Office 365 with an estimated 33% to 50% share of Cloud-based productivity apps.  The primary difference: Google Apps was Cloud-based from the start; it doesn’t have all of the features of Microsoft Office, but is relevant on more platforms, is free to consumers, and costs just $50 per

year for users of Google Apps for Business.

So, Google Apps plays well in a heterogeneous, consumer/small-business world.  Also, Google has moved its popular Postini anti-spam service into Google Apps, a move that has angered and confused many of its (former) Postini clients, but one that makes sense from the perspective of beefing up Google Apps for Business to battle against Office 365.

For details, please see the 4/23/2013 article by Kurt Mackie of Redmond Magazineat http://redmondmag.com/articles/2013/04/23/gains-for-google-in-cloud-office.aspx?sc_lang=en.  To compare Office 365 to Google Apps, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBtYFM6Zy0o

Winner (by a strong, but potentially diminishing margin) is Microsoft; Microsoft dominates the desktop, but mobile users are changing the landscape.

Google Android versus Microsoft Windows

In terms of projected sales of mobile devices, Google’s Android (DROID) owns the market at 79% while Microsoft Windows is at just 3.3%.  However, if you include desktop computers, a declining market, Windows is still prevalent across organizations throughout the world.

Google introduced Android in 2007; it is a Linux-based, open-source operating system designed for touchscreen devices.  Its strength is its robustness and ease-of-use, which led to a brisk rate of adoption by users and application developers.

Windows 8 was introduced in October of 2012.  It was designed to be compatible with its predecessors (Windows XP and Windows 7) while introducing a touch-enabled, tile-based, user interface that has been more frustrating than enabling.  To date, it has failed to meet even modest expectations.  (Windows 8.1, a free, significant upgrade to Windows 8, will release on October 17th with the hope of changing this trend.)

Currently a draw if you include both mobile devices and desktop computers:  Microsoft owns the desktop while Google owns mobile devices; Windows 8.1 provides hope, but might be too little too late to penetrate the mobility market.

If nothing else, expect prices to decrease as the competition heats up.

Microsoft Office 365 versus Microsoft Office 2013

Microsoft has been promoting its Cloud-based Office 365, which was introduced in mid-2012.  It recently released Office 2013; a familiar collection of Cloud-enabled, desktop-computer-based applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.

Microsoft Office 2013

Microsoft Office was first introduced in 1985 on the Macintosh; it moved to the PC in 1990 as Office 1.0, which combined Word 1.1, Excel 2.0, and PowerPoint 2.0 in a “suite” that launched Microsoft’s subsequent success.  (At the time, Lotus 123 was the dominant spreadsheet and WordPerfect the dominant word-processor; both companies are no longer independent and are mere shells of their former selves.)

Office 2013 is the latest version of the traditional Microsoft Office suite.  It comes in several, perpetual-license formats:

  • OEM – Least-expensive, non-transferrable and sold only with a new computer
  • Retail – Boxed product that can be transferred from one PC to another
  • Open License – License-only version that can be transferred

The primary applications of Office 2013 that are included in all versions:

  • Word – Create documents
  • Excel – Build and analyze spreadsheet data
  • PowerPoint – Design and deliver presentations
  • Outlook – Manage emails, schedules, contacts

Advanced-level versions of Office 2013 also have:

  • OneNote – Take notes in your digital notebook
  • Publisher – Create professional publications
  • InfoPath – Design electronic forms
  • Access – Manage data

Two other applications associated with Office 2013, but purchased separately:

  • Visio – Develop professional diagrams (flow-charts, org charts, etc.)
  • Project – Manage a portfolio of projects

Microsoft Office 365

Office 365 is a collection of three primary, online, Microsoft-hosted services:

  • Exchange Online – Email, contacts, calendar
  • SharePoint Online – Document sharing, storage, and collaboration
  • Lync Online – Messaging with multi-party video conferencing

These online services integrate with Office 2013, but are not part of Office 2013.

Office 365 can be licensed in several formats for organizations:

  • Office 365 Small Business – $6 to $12.50/user per month based on options
  • Office 365 Medium Business – $180/user per year ($15/month)
  • Office 365 Enterprise – $8 to $22/user per month based on options

The more-expensive versions of Office 365 include a non-perpetual subscription to Office 2013.  Charitable and government organizations receive special pricing.

Overlap and differences between Office 2013 and Office 365

Office 2013 and Office 365 overlap in that some Office 365 versions include a subscription to Office 2013. Also, Office 2013 was designed to work with Office 365.

Differences include:

  • Only Office 365 includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online; Office 2013 includes only the desktop applications mentioned above.
  • Office 365 is rented under a subscription-based offering; you pay per user.
  • Office 2013 can be rented, but is also available as a perpetual license; you purchase it one-time and own it under the terms of the license agreement.

Special note:  You can purchase Office 2013 outright (through one of the perpetual-licensing models) and then use it with your Office 365 subscription.

References

Please visit http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/ for details on Microsoft Office 365 and Office 2013.

Related articles:

Preview into Microsoft Office 2013

In addition to Windows 8, I have also been using Office 2013 over the past few months; I like some things, but not everything:
• Excel updates ripple slowly down the page; they seemed to run a bit faster in previous versions.
• The top-right Window icons have shifted somewhat; the Minimize icon ( _ ) is now in the middle rather than on the left while the Help icon is now on the left.
Since I rarely use the Help icon, but occasionally use the Minimize icon, I dislike this change

Booting Windows 8 into Safe Mode

Safe Mode is useful for diagnosing PC problems. Because Windows 8 starts quickly, you cannot get into Safe Mode by pressing [F8] during the boot-up process (as you could with previous versions of Windows). The new procedure:

  • Go to Settings and then select Power
  • Hold [Shift] and then press Restart to open System Recovery Options
  • Select Troubleshoot from System Recovery Options
  • Select Advanced options
  • Select Startup Settings
  • Enable Safe Mode

Microsoft’s new (old) SharePoint

Microsoft SharePoint, currently version 2013, has been around since 2001; it is a document-management/collaboration and web-application tool designed to store, share, and synchronize important content.  It is closely aligned with the Microsoft Office suite and SharePoint Online is a component of Microsoft Office 365.

 

SharePoint Foundation (formerly known as SharePoint Services) is included within Windows Server; it is an entry-level freebie suitable for internal use.  SharePoint Server 2013, the full-blown product, can be purchased separately and should be deployed on its own Windows-based server (or virtual server).

Deployments have been brisk; to date, millions of SharePoint-based sites, both SharePoint Foundation and SharePoint Server, have been launched. 

 

Large and medium-sized organizations deploy SharePoint Server to provide both internal and external collaboration.  Including SharePoint Server within Microsoft Office 365 has put it within the financial reach of smaller organizations.

 

Primary SharePoint components and their function:

  • Site – A collection of work-related content (documents, images, etc.)
  • List – A collection of pieces of information, usually with the same properties
  • Library – A governed list of documents, pictures, etc. stored in SharePoint
  • Page – Location to upload/download content:  Wiki, Web-Part, or Publishing
  • Community – A unit for collaboration and communication
  • Composite – Integrated collections of data, documents, and processes

 

Although SharePoint is easier to use than ever, it is a large, complex environment that should be approached with some experience and a well-defined plan.

 

ComputerWorld  has the article SharePoint 2010 Cheat Sheet by Jonathan Hassell.  (SharePoint Server 2013 came out about a week after his article released in December of 2012.)

System Builders Await Surface’s Impact

Gavin Livingstone, President of Bryley Systems, talks to Channel Pro Networkabout Microsoft’s Surface tablet.  Read the full article System Builders Await Surface’s Impact

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Garin Livingstone Passes his Windows 7 Exam!

Congrats Garin Livingstone, Bryley Systems Senior Tech, for successfully completing and passing your Windows 7 configuring class and test!!! image