Usually I start these types of blogs with a decent disertation of what the problem was and then give the solution. Let’s flip that this time around since I’m in a quick blog mood.

Answer: ActiveCollab

Problem: Keep Reading.

When our clients and projects started to pile up we realized very quickly that we needed to get ourselves something that can give our clients exposure to our progress and help us manage our project. In my history of consulting that was done with multiple spreadsheets and project management software. Not wanting to go down that same path I started looking for SOMETHING that could be the best of all our wants and needs. Here was the raw list of wants and needs.

Needs:

  • Project portal that will allow our clients to see status reports
  • Tool that will allow us to collaborate with our clients without email chains, phone tag and IM convos
  • Location where files can be stored and information shared like a wiki but easy for a non-technical client to use
  • Web-Based and pleasing to the eyes
  • It needed to have strong User Access Control
  • Ticketing System is a must

Here are all the wants:

  • It would be great if it could be hosted on our own server
  • Wouldn’t it be great to customize it to look exactly the way you want?
  • Client portal feel without all that content management work

The solution as was previously stated is ActiveCollab. There were quite a few decent alternatives but AC really met all the requirements and then some. We have been able to customize it exactly the way we wanted and it works great. We are totally a LAMP stack shop and it was great being able to throw the code onto our sever and get it working and customized within a few short hours. Most importantly we have something that meets ALL of our needs and wants.

For more information check out: http://www.activecollab.com/

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).