Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Cloud Up has Moved!

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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Why Going to Tender is a Waste of Time

Tenders are a waste of time, effort, and money. There, I've said it. Every business I've been involved with when selling a product turns tenders away (unless there has been involvement prior to the tender being released). Why?

What is a Tender?
A "tender" is a a process by which a company that is going to market in order to find a solution to a business challenge or to assist in growing the business, asks a number of vendors to submit multiple pieces of documentation in order to compare, contrast and eventually select and implement a solution presented by one vendor.

The process starts with the company performing internal requirements analysis. Typically, the tender process is championed by one internal stakeholder who then asks each department that will be involved in using the end solution to submit a list of desired functionality. This internal stakeholder then compiles these responses into one document and often a spreadsheet, the latter being kept internal for the process of later comparison. The document itself is normally a set of questions in the nature of "Can your system perform X? What is the process to perform Y?" etc. These questions are aimed at covering off each of the desired pieces of functionality that the departments involved have requested. The resulting document is then either issued on a website and available for any vendor to respond to, or the champion handpicks a few vendors to participate in the tender.

Each vendor must then compile a response document answering each of the questions (there could be dozens and dozens) in as much detail as possible, including use cases, screenshots, and anything else they feel would help win the business. The vendors then submit these responses back to prospective client. The client reviews (this is a problem in itself), updates their internal comparison spreadsheet and more often than not, a few shortlisted vendors make the next step of meeting with the prospect to discuss moving forward.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The "Do it Now!" Mentality

There are many different types of productivity plans and programs. They all take a somewhat similar approach to getting things done. Most of these systems require planning and diligence in order to execute a predefined set of tasks. However, there is one, very old, very simple system that doesn't require this and still means you will get a whole lot done. It is the "Do It Now" mentality.

The system is simple. Think of a task. Do it. Now.

No planning. No software. Just action.

As simple as it sounds, there is but one rule - finish it. So perhaps, the Do It Now mantra could be better understood as "Start it now. Finish it now.". This productivity mentality has it's place in the world of getting things done, and it shouldn't necessarily be used everywhere at all times. "Do It Now" is best suited at tasks that take no more than one hour from start to finish. No planning.

It's easy. If you see something that needs doing, or one of your colleagues asks you to work on something, take action, straight away. No hesitation, no delays, no procrastination.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Data Storage with Dropbox

The Hard Drive is Dead

File sizes are getting bigger. Security is always a big concern. Sharing and collaboration gets things done. It used to be that as computer programs evolved, the size of the files they produced (that is, that you could save and load) grew in size too. This meant that you would constantly be looking out for a bigger hard drive so that you would keep using the programs you love and not have to delete anything to avoid running out of space on your computer.

And if you wanted to access a file (be it a document, spreadsheet, photo, movie, or anything else) on another computer, you would have to first copy the file from your own hard drive to a either a USB stick or thumb drive, a CD/DVD, or external hard drive, and then carry that device around with you, connect it to the other computer and hope it recognized the device and the file would open ok for you.

I was part of this cycle and was a big advocate of CD/DVD storage, especially as a backup medium. I would backup my photos, copy files and take them around with me. There was definitely problems with this solution, many of which are obvious:
  • Devices are fragile
  • Devices can be lost
  • CD/DVDs were a pain to use multiple times and re-writable discs were always messy
And of course, they have a limited lifespan. And who could forget the constant worry of a hard drive clicking it's way to death.

Now, services are popping up on the internet that act as your hard drive. There's services from Amazon, box.net, Syncplicity, Ubuntu One, Google Docs, SugarSync and more. One that I've found very powerful and flexible, is Dropbox.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

What is the Cloud?

Definition and History of the Cloud

The are many version of the history of the term "cloud" as it relates to computing. In my university days, the "cloud" was called the "internet". The "Cloud" is basically another term for a network of machines. I think the best way to explain this is with the graphic below. In it, all machines and devices that do certain functions, outside of the devices we know and care about, are collected into a cloud shape - usually the big fluffy thing in the middle.

Traditionally, computing has been done with applications installed on a local machine and in more corporate situations, these applications may talk to, and store data on a centralised server inside the corporate network. Cloud computing throws all of that out the window. As shown in the graphic, the only device that people actually use is the screen, the interface. The entire application, storage, processing and communication between interconnected services, is handled by some other device, somewhere else. And that really is the basis behind the "cloud". It's data being processed and loaded for you, by a machine that you don't necessarily know where it is, what it is, or even if it's doing anything else at the same time.

Friday, 29 July 2011

SugarCRM 6.2.1 is Social CRM Made Simple

When is it available

SugarCRM, the company behind the most intuitive, flexible and open Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system available, released version 6.2.1 of their product suite on July 15, 2011 to much anticipation and relief. While the company released the highly anticipated version 6.2.0 earlier this year, it came with a great deal of anguish for customers upgrading from previous versions and many others were advised to avoid the 6.2.0 release in favour of the impending 6.2.1 revision, which would have the upgrade issues resolved.

What is Social CRM

Let's first recap what "Social CRM" is, as it is a very loose term and can be interpreted in many, many ways. Social CRM, as with any CRM, is an activity. CRM system vendors provide tools to help people perform this activity. The same can be said for Social CRM. Social CRM however, is an outward-in approach to customer relations rather than the traditional inward-out view. Social CRM looks at a customer or prospect and how that person interacts with their social and professional networks both online and offline, their influence and influencers. The goal of Social CRM is to better understand the customer and what influences their decisions and habits. With this, you can evolve from a standardized interaction methodology to one which is all about the customer, and on their terms. Once the customer is fully understood, you are in a much better position to close deals.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Hardware, Software and the Cloud

Today's technology is bridging the gap on what is an "application" and what is a "web site". Traditionally, an application was a piece of software that was installed on your desktop or on a server in your office. These applications had strict system requirements which would degrade, or prevent, performance if not met. Applications were very rarely "fun". Rarely did someone say, "hey, did you check out that new application...". This was because it all took time to get from point A to point B. In order to "check out" an application, you had to go through the following steps:
  1. Find the application - normally physically - either at a store or from a vendor
  2. Determine if your current systems met the system requirements of the application and if not, upgrade your current system (this is a whole other issue on its own!).
  3. Acquire the application - either through simple transaction or lengthy sales process (again, a whole other discussion).
  4. Install the application on the required hardware (usually a server and a client (desktop/workstation) machine).
    1. Resolve any unforeseen hardware or software conflicts for each machine
  5. Configure any additional services such as network connectivity
  6. Start the application
  7. ... wait for the hour-glass to stop spinning...
  8. Go through the licensing and activation screens
  9. ... and then, ta-da! The application!
  10. Oh wait, now you need to read the manual to figure out what all the buttons and menus do and when.