Just adding to my previous argument to move away from massive spreadsheets (See WebApp vs. Data Tennis) is the infoSoft Global application FusionCharts. I’m a huge proponent of being able to visualize data in a way that will make the most impact for your audience. This shouldn’t be sacrificed just because the application is on the web. As a matter of fact, it should be even more impacting with the speed of which information can be transfered and displayed.

We recently came across FusionCharts searching for a simple way to integrate web graphing with our already matured LAMP Application. The flash based graphing works well with PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails just to name a few. The best part is that all you need to do is feed it the right XML datafile and the graph is done. This makes it easy to read directly from a database (which we did) utilizing a few string manipulation techniques.

Did I mention that they have a free version?

For some small business, IT procurement can be a challenge. Budgets are tight and figuring out hardware requirements could be daunting. How is it possible to ensure that you get the most out of your computing so your life-cycle isn’t shorter than it needs to be AND you satisfy your employees within reason? One simple key is to address the usage pattern of your employees.

What is the benefit of looking at it this way? 
My eureka story covers this best. I took my car for a routine service and was surprised when the mechanic said I needed new brake pads. They were changed not too long ago and the math wasn’t working out in my head. Skeptical, I ignored his comment. If it wasn’t for the insurance requirements of his company he would have pulled me under the car to see how bad it was for myself. After he told me how many millimeters I had left before I would hear screeching I grudgingly had them changed. Later that week (still doubting my decision) I noticed something while a certain family member was driving the car (Identity withheld to protect my life).  This unidentified individual habitually stopped hard at red lights. AH HA! That was the usage pattern that led to the breaks needing changing earlier than my projected life-cycle. Unfortunately for me I had to fork out the money and reacted to the usage pattern after the fact. It doesn’t need to be that way for IT Procurement. 
For most users they would like a computer to function like their mind. They want to multitask on several different things and they want to do it quickly. Even with most up-to-date system, there is a threshold where it will seem unresponsive because of the multitasking being imposed by the user. So if someone has, say Adobe Photoshop CS3, open with 15 different images, is checking email, listing to a Pandora stream and browsing the web, the usage pattern can change. The goal is to help users understand how they need to think a little differently to maximize their computing productivity. When that message is properly conveyed, the life-cycle will be extended. The trick is to convey that message without inflicting pain.
To avoid any toe to toe confrontations, a simple yet proactive approach can be taken, here are a few options:
  • Every so often, provide employees with reminders and tips on good computing. These can be gathered from the same companies who provide your hardware and software. Sometimes these companies send monthly emails and webinars on useful computing topics. Recycle those in summary to employees in an official company message.
  • Provide a checklist of monthly maintenance tasks to perform (folder organization, file clean up, desktop cleanup, etc)
  • Establish a system to share tips and tricks among employees (wiki page, whiteboard sessions). 

“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it!”

All too often we encounter small business clients who feel their IT infrastructure is operating just fine. When asked, “how is your IT infrastructure working”, they roll their eyes to the sky and think back to their personal computing issues over the past week. The answer is often, “things are okay…I guess”.
Then it happens…
“My computer crashed!” 
“Are you able to get e-mail?”
“I can’t print, can you print?”
“Why is the internet so slow?”
“My home computer is faster than this.”
With almost inborn instinct the victims hit the power button and pray for normalcy. If the situation is not resolved with a reset and the frustration level is high enough, a call for support is made. Since these issues typically happen sporadically they are often swept under the mental rug.
But lets examine this with business basics – Time Is Money! If we chalk down the lost time of the underrated comments above into dollars, the loss would be startling. This is where a small business owner with limited IT support needs insight into their infrastructure with simple “Key Metrics”.
Key Metric 1: “How many times a week, month or quarter have I experienced an outage, failure or issue?”
Key Metric 2: “How long was each outage, failure or issue?”
Key Metric 3: “How much did this on average cost me in dollars and cents?
The metrics are no more complicated than 5th grade math class, but pack the same power as E=mc
If the financial loss because of the issues approaches 40% (for arguments sake) of the cost of the hardware, software, or service being used its time to take action. Setting aside a little effort measuring IT outages (among other things) can save a bundle. A small business owner can use the information to target potential system failure, plan for hardware upgrades and more important have peace of mind.