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Save the Data

Data loss incurred by Canadian organizations has grown by 400 per cent since 2012. (http://bit.ly/1rVlxLC)

I’m sure I don’t need to use these scare tactics to educate the business community about the importance of preserving irreplaceable data. We’ve all heard it. Many people have lost data or at least had some kind of scare. So why is this risk still prevalent? I would suggest the majority of new prospective clients we “inspect” do not have an adequate, functioning data backup system for their business. Most businesses will have something that was put in place once upon a time, but too often it stopped working properly months or even years ago.

This phenomenon reminds me a little of seeing youth (or I guess anyone for that matter) smoke. They’ve heard their entire life that smoking will kill them and yet, they still took up the habit. I think it is human nature to understate our own risks. We have laws that state we shouldn’t drive and text, most people agree these laws are a good idea, yet our collective behavior doesn’t change that much. “It won’t happen to me.”

Smart Dolphins is not going to change the human psyche, but we would like to make a difference with the business risk of weak or failing backup systems. There are zillions of perfectly arranged ones and zeros at stake (sorry for the obscure nerd-humour interlude)! For the same reasons we have laws that make car insurance mandatory, we feel “backup insurance” should be ubiquitous. Take some time today to ensure that your organization has a solid process (which typically means a non-human process) in place that alerts you when your data backup system is misbehaving because it will with enough time.

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I Don’t Have A Cellular Phone

It was heavy, square, and obscenely over priced.

I vividly recall my family’s first cellular phone, the Nokia 101. The year was 1993,

This Hour Has 22 Minutes had just premiered on CBC, and Prince was changing his name to a symbol. Texting was not in our vocabulary, and those few people with an email address could not imagine sending an email from their phone.

This thing was a phone; it was only a phone. There were no apps, or GPS. No games, or listening to your most recent mp3 purchases. Referring to such a device as a cellular phone was bang on. Nevertheless, this incredible device left an impression on me. I wanted one.

Nearly 20 years later and I don’t have a cell phone. However, I never leave home without my iPhone.

“But Ty, you just said you don’t have a cell phone, what gives?”

Let me explain. I take care of email, read my favourite technology blogs, watch tv, and even control our computers at home through my IPhone. However, the one thing I do least of all is make phone calls. In fact, I almost never use it as a phone, and I spend a lot, and I mean A LOT of time on that thing. When I do make calls it is VOIP which bypasses regular cellular voice networks anyway. My cell phone is anything but a phone.

The way we use these devices has shifted radically. Current generation cell phones have more in common with PC’s than their cell phone ancestors.  The productivity that can be gained here is huge. An office in your pocket is a powerful thing.

Do you have a cellular phone?

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Growing Again

I’m excited (again).

In the early years of Smart Dolphins, it was always exciting. We were young, growing and things were easier. Being young gives you a lot of freedom and you feel invincible. We were a new growing company so we could torture our clients a little bit and they’d excuse it. “Ah, they’re a great growing company. This [torture] is just a little growing pain.” I (the sole shareholder) could also excuse weak profitability by focusing on all our awesome growth.

Of course, nobody stays young forever. You can only torture clients and miss the mark financially for so long. We had to grow up. This maturity and discipline have been our focus over the past two or three years. To do this, I put a halt to growing the business as we were really just growing something that was clunky into something that was even more clunky. We have come a long way.

GrowthOf course, a business should never stop maturing, refining operations and building discipline, but  we have come a long way over the past few years. We have re-established a strong foundation and we’re now again turning our minds to our long lost love for growth… healthy growth. We’ve recently launched our new website and started this blog: a few small ceremonial steps toward this new phase in Smart Dolphins’ history. We’re also in the early stages of building a few creative marketing campaigns and these types of things always get my juices flowing.

Did I mention I’m excited?

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To iPad or Not to iPad

To iPad or Not to iPad…

iPadUnless you have been living in a cave for the past 12 months, you have heard of, and probably seen, and maybe even gushed over the Apple iPad. Again, Apple takes the top spot in design and versatility with its newest golden goose.

So why don’t I own an iPad? Well, after reading into the iPad thoroughly, I decided to wait until next year (2011) for the inevitable second generation iPad. This will allow for issues like lack of multitasking, web camera and decent hard drive capacity to catch up with what I know I will require in a device.

I can’t stress enough how excited I am to get my hands on one of these new devices however. To me it is a couch computer, a bring to the grocery store computer, an on the kitchen counter sticky note killer computer and lastly, a lay in bed and stay current with the news computer.

Should you buy one now? I would say that unless you have a burning desire for the bleeding edge, or $500+ burning a hole in your pocket, that at this stage in the game with all the other so called iPad killers coming out in 2011, it seems to make sense to me to wait until next year.

For more information check out this Toms Hardware article on the front runners in the tablet world. http://www.tomsguide.com/us/iPad-PlayBook-Galaxy,review-1585.html

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Smart Dolphins charity event a huge success!

Smart Dolphins is participating in the 8th Annual VIATeC Foodbank Challenge that benefits the Mustard Seed Foodbank. As part of our fund raising efforts, we hosted a fun, charity poker tournament at our office on Saturday, November 20th. This will be the third year that we have had this event in conjunction with the Foodbank Challenge and we once again smashed our previous fund raising total by raising nearly $900!

Thank you to all those who participating. Your generosity was incredible! And what a fantastically fun event.

Also a big thank you to Victoria’s Best Pizza place, Ali Baba Pizza for the contribution to the pizza fund raising!

Lastly, a monster thank you to Jesse Smith for pulling the weight on this and making it happen!

Victoria's Best Pizza Place, Ali Baba's Pizza

If you are interested in participating in next year’s tournament, please contact [email protected]or [email protected] prior to November 2011.

A few great memories:

  • Jesse rebuys twice in the first ten minutes
  • Jesse taunts Dave/other table to be more reckless, Dave rebuys twice on two hands and the table has 7 rebuys in the next 30 minutes
  • Steve attempts to fold more hands than anyone else, but eventually is overtaken by Joe nursing ways
  • Steve morphs into Mark
  • Chris and Dave get killed going all in on pocket pairs on first hand after dinner break. Dave gets third ace, but Alex takes them both down by rivering a flush.
  • Ty spills drink(s)
  • Heather peers into Ty’s soul and read’s him like a children’s story book, taking his monster stack of chips in 2 hands.
  • Jesse was assumed out, but at the last moment notices he rivered a flush
  • Alex wins the tournament with two pair; Jesse second. Adam third. Heather fourth (first time player – is destined for Vegas).
  • The ultimate winner: the Mustard Seed has $900 coming there way!
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Let’s Get Started: Onboarding

IT Onboarding ProcessOne of the most challenging times for an IT business like ours is when we sign a new customer. There are documents to sign, people to meet, tools & services to deploy, and then of course there is the customer’s technology. Our Onboarding Process touches almost every facet of our business, and it is critical, but why?

  1. Consistency. Every single one of our customers has their antivirus, antispam, and offsite backup setup the exact same way. Each customer’s networking equipment is photographed (for our remote team), and every network is well documented. Our billing is setup correctly from the start. Our tools are deployed so that we can remotely support, monitor, and manage our customer’s networks. By going through a well defined process, we ensure that nothing ever gets missed.
  2. Start Well. There is never a second chance to make a first impression. I hate clichés, but they exist for a reason! Our Onboarding Process gives us a great opportunity to impress our new customers and it can really set the tone for our future relationship with them.
  3. Avoid Problems. Failing to onboard well has the opposite effect. It is very difficult to recover from a rocky start, and I’ll admit that we have had some very rocky starts in the past. We didn’t always prioritize the Onboarding Process as much as we do now, because we weren’t valuing it enough. This has cost us time, money, and even the occasional customer. That said, every company hits speed bumps along the way and we wouldn’t have such a great onboarding process today if we hadn’t made those mistakes and learned from them. The thing that I love most about our company is the constant desire to improve; from everybody that works here.

Today I think that we have one of the best Onboarding Processes in the IT industry, and its value cannot be overstated. You should get in touch and let us prove this to you and your company!

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IT Partnership with LiveVHD (Virtual Help Desk)

In mid September, Smart Dolphins took a calculated leap that permanently and fundamentally changed our company for the better. We came to the realization that we could not be the best at running an efficient and effective help desk (the part of our team dedicated to servicing our common and relatively easier reactive computer support service) while also running the best managed services business. So we established an IT partnership with a local Victoria Help Desk company, LiveVHD (VHD = Virtual Help Desk), who is the best at running an efficient and effective help desk.

When we first starting thinking about this potential change back in the summer, it seemed too scary. “We can’t turn our treasured clients over to a bunch of strangers.” Our core values include “Healthy Relationships” and it felt initially like we were going to be turning our backs on an important part of what we were doing for clients. That feeling started to subside when we met with Dan Sturgill and some of the LiveVHD team. We could see that this company had very similar core values, they focused exclusively on the help desk component of what we do (so they provide this particular type of network support better than we ever could) and they were specifically built for companies (internationally) who are JUST LIKE US. LiveVHD fit Smart Dolphins like a glove.

It seemed like it would make good business sense, but it was still a leap. How would the onboarding process work? How would clients react? How would our team react? Of course, we learned, LiveVHD stick-handles these transitions all the time so they had a lot of really good answers to these worries. We were also extra relieved by the unique offer they gave us: because they are just down the street from us, they were able and willing to hire our internal help desk guys and would assign them to our clients. So, to our clients, there will only be a new phone number and only occasionally a new voice. If we weren’t vocal and open about the change (and of course we were), most clients probably wouldn’t even have known the difference.

Some of the Smart folks at LiveVHD:
IT Partnership LiveVHD

The results so far have been nothing short of great:

  • Our clients agree: on the previous 100 feedback surveys prior to the transition, our clients gave us an average score (out of 5) of 4.72. The LiveVHD surveys so far have averaged 4.84!
  • We also have been amazed by how much they have been able to accomplish: they have closed over 97% of the service orders (tickets/problems) that they have opened.
  • And for our clients, they have an even larger team at LiveVHD to help maintain fast response times when we have a peak in demand.

The impact this change had on our operations has also been striking. By removing the “noisy” bulk of the reactive work that we had, our team can now almost exclusively focus on the most challenging reactive work and, more importantly, concentrate on the proactive work and larger projects we take on. This is really good timing as we have just finished redefining our IT best practices framework and now need our newly freed up proactive resources to apply this template to each and every one of our managed services clients.

So besides what I hope is an interesting story, I offer this up as a lesson to other businesses out there. Sometimes big changes can seem too scary and it is easy to find reasons why they won’t work. However, if you can get a large and important block of work out of your hands and into the hands of a partner company that is focused exclusively on that type of work, you will almost certainly be better off. And well, I guess I wouldn’t be a very good “sales guy” if I didn’t close this by suggesting creating IT Partnerships is EXACTLY what we do for our clients!

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Cost vs Benefits of a Computer Network

I met with a good friend of mine (shall remain nameless) recently to discuss his very serious business challenge (opportunity). He needed a better way to track the productivity within his business and felt doing so would probably increase his profits by tens of thousands of dollars per year or maybe even a 6 digit change. Wow. Big opportunity!

Before I could recommend that he invest and engage in an excellent, industry-specific software solution to do this tracking, he told me that he actually already owned a piece of industry software that was known to be excellent for his type of business . Unfortunately, the software had been sitting idle for some time, waiting for upgrades to his computer network before it could be used.

For reasons I won’t touch on here, we agreed that Smart Dolphins would not be able to do work for them. So it was nice to give him some really impartial, but knowledgeable advice.

He had also already been through the process of getting several quotes for the work to be done and had found one IT Service Provider in particular that seemed very professional and knowledgeable. He was so close to realizing the large, quantifiable benefits of embracing technology, but he was stuck. He hadn’t given the go ahead because of the significant cost of the hardware and service required. However, this cost was a lot less than their annual expected gain. In short, he worried he was over paying; paraphrased: “how could these things cost so much for our small operation?”

In my review of their quote, I suggested it was a little on the high and could probably be trimmed down 5-15% with a little discussion with the service provider. However, the quote wasn’t unreasonable. The ongoing managed services costs were also very reasonable to my eye. Overall, I suggested that these costs would likely be paid back in the first 6 months of the investment, given the opportunity he had to improve his business by making this investment. He agreed and, here is the puzzling piece: he had thought so prior to me suggesting so.

So here is a very smart business person who was holding up on one of the biggest improvements he could make to his business because he was worried he was potentially overpaying for the solution.

I tell this story like this friend is a poor decision maker, but I’ll say this: his decision making process is incredibly common.

In my opinion and my experience, it comes down to people’s myopic view of the costs involved with their computer network. It is easy to take the benefits of technology for granted or to get cost-focused when a comma is used in the proposal for the investment required to enable technology. The benefits of technology are usually vastly greater than the direct costs you pay an IT service provider (assuming they are any good and don’t charge excessively).

Not so sure on my claim here? Cut the power to your office right now. The full costs of a lack of technology come clear when the technology stops working; humans tend to better recognize the true value of something after it is gone.

Sure, you want to be sure your costs are reasonable as per the market for your IT services, but if you have three sources quoting in the same ballpark, you can probably safely choose the IT Service Provider of the three that offers the best overall value and move ahead. And that is what makes for success business: move ahead.

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Input Sharing – Double Duty for your Keyboard and Mouse

Here at Smart Dolphins, it’s not uncommon for one person to use both a workstation and a laptop in different scenarios. The workstations are used in the office at people’s desks, while the laptops go onsite when visiting clients or down into the boardroom during meetings.

However, recently we’ve been changing that.  Some of us having been opening up our laptops while sitting at our desks and utilizing them as a third screen. Overkill right? Well, we’re computer guys after all.

Of course, it’s not really a third screen is it? It’s actually an entirely different computer that I’m working on, and not all that efficient if I have to juggle my hands between different keyboards and mice.

This is where products like Synergy and Input Director come into play. These products connect two or more computers together and allow you to share a single keyboard and mouse between them. I can literally drag my mouse off of the left hand side of my workstation monitor and the mouse cursor will jump over to my laptop. Great right? I use a lot of different applications in my work day and having my laptop so easily available is a really great productivity tool for me.

Synergy is completely free for anyone to use, whereas Input Director is free for personal use but requires businesses to contact the author and pay a small fee. Both products do essentially the same thing and I’ve used them both with great success, but I definitely give the nod to Input Director for being slightly simpler to configure. Either way, if this is something that interests you then give us a call and we can get your workstation and laptop talking to each other within minutes!

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“It’s my co-workers fault”

I have changed the names in this story to protect the guilty.

Today I bought my lunch at a local establishment and was witness to some common, but bad customer service. A fellow patron had ordered chicken, but when he went to pick up the food he found out it was no longer available.

Lisa, the person making the meal, said, “Ahhh! I already told Larry we don’t have any chicken left. So it’s not my fault. I’ll have to give you Turkey instead.”

Wow.

Now of course, there are whole bunch of things wrong here, but it all really boils down to a very simple rule about customer service ( human interaction): empathy. The employee needs to put herself in the patron’s shoes. This customer is not going to care about Lisa or Larry or why there is no chicken. He wants chicken. He paid for chicken. Throwing your co-worker under the bus is the exactly wrong thing to do. Doing so robs the patron of any sense that the establishment is taking responsibility or that you care. It also shines a very poor light on the culture of the business. “Nothing we can do about it: Larry is incompetent. Here’s your turkey.”

Now, of course, this is a “fast food joint” so you might fairly suggest my story is not unique. I do think this type of behaviour, in slightly more subtle forms, is very common. I know I’ve seen it at Smart Dolphins from time to time. Watch for it.

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