Planning

If you are interested in formally documenting your business processes using a very widely used standard notation, then this link is for you.
http://creately.com/blog/diagrams/flowchart-guide-flowchart-tutorial/
This would help if you were planning to expand by franchising, for example or are doing study related to your business.
But if you haven’t got time to deal with all that stuff or find it uncomfortable, don’t worry. All you really need to have a clearer view of your process is to draw a box when someone does something and a line between boxes where there is a connection e.g. information flow.

Oftentimes people will try to sell you technology solutions. The best way to know if they will be helpful to you is to have a good understanding of your business processes. This means being able to explain to someone outside your business exactly what you do, at a deeper level than the pitch. It might time time to document them fully but understanding how your business ticks can save you from unhelpful technology purchases and help you focus your efforts. You want to look beyond your products and services, to how you deliver them. For example, if you sell hand made products online, when do you update your web site and from what device – computer or tablet? Do you take photos at client sites, e.g of a property or new swimming pool? Do you make appointments on the go? How do your staff know what appointments you have made? Do you work from the same location all the time or do you travel? What I recommend is that you write down each product and service that you provide or intend to provide on a page of paper or as headings in a document on your computer/ tablet.
Then for each, write down the steps you take to deliver it.
Review each of these and consider if your technology is working as well as it can for you or if something needs to change. If you don’t know what can be changed, then at least you are well prepared to answer your IT consultant’s questions about how you will use the program or device and ask him or her appropriate questions to determine if the proposed solution meets your needs. In the coming weeks, we will cover some techniques for looking at your business processes. If you are a visual learner, there are easy diagramming techniques which you may find helpful. Shiny new laptop

Last week we looked at the design phase of a technology project. Once designed, its time to build or buy the solution. If it is an “off the shelf ” solution your work is nearly done. It is just a matter of determining the best product or combination of products on the market to solve your problem and the best price to buy them. If there is any customization to be done, or if you are building something new such as an app or web site , then there are more steps.
You will need to find an expert to build it and you will need to have a plan to test it when he or she says they are finished. You will need to make sure it does everything that you said you required of it during design. This is often known as the acceptance test phase. Once it passes testing there is one more thing to consider : do you or your staff require any training or documentation. This should be anticipated when you are planning the project and costed as part of it.  Often it will influence your choice of implementation partner. A cheap quote from an outsourcing web site might exclude training and then you may be required to pay more to have someone else learn the system and then teach it. Factor it in from the beginning. Like with a building project, if you are time poor or want to be guided along the way by an expert, it is possible to hire a project manager to look after your project from the start right through to making sure your staff have all the training needed to get the best out of it.

Any questions on software projects? Who has ever taken one on? Developed a mobile app?

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of a technology implementation project? It isn’t all geeky young men sitting in a room writing code, emerging only to eat pizza and drink cola drinks or coffee.
It is actually more like building a house, when seen from the client’s viewpoint.
Firstly, you decide you have a problem that technology may be able to solve.
At this stage, you might decide to examine your business processes and determine if there is anything you want to change. Do you spend too much time on paperwork somewhere? Can that be streamlined? Maybe you bought a tablet computer in the sales and now you have had a cool idea for an app that will help promote your business.
Before you start your project, you must have a clear idea of what you want, expressed in your own terms.

The next stage, best done by someone who is comfortable with technology, is to take your requirements and determine how to meet them.
Normally, this involves determining if there is something you can buy which meets your needs. For example, if it is a bookkeeping issue, you may be able to buy a suitable small business accounting package or subscribe to one online. We CAN write a new accounting software package for you but unless you have very unusual needs it is not likely to be cost effective !
If you do have a niche project, for example, developing a phone app specifically to promote your services, then you need to develop a brief for the developer. This should be more detailed and give him or her everything they would need to build the app. There are two common approaches :
1) high level brief and pay the developer to do the design as well as development
2) provide the developer with a detailed design, similar to the blueprint for a house

1) has risks of potential conflict of interest as you are asking someone to design and build your house, without independent oversight. You will probably end up paying more for this approach but you are free from having to worry about how things are done
2) is my preferred approach personally but requires a significant amount of training and experience in information technology as you have to understand
– how the system will be built using what technology building blocks
– if any data will be stored by the system and how – database design is a technology specialty all of its own, on which many books have been written
Is there a middle approach? Yes, you can engage different people or groups to do the design and the build. Remember that the designer should have experience in doing similar work and a broad knowledge of IT concepts. He or she should be familiar with industry standards and design languages and techniques.
Next time, we will talk about implementation, testing and training.
Tablet computer

On the high seas of technology, you will meet many intelligent, educated, rational people who have an unquestioning allegiance to a particular brand, product or technology. This is often a strong, sincere, almost religious belief, hence the chapter heading. Recent TV reports showed someone who travels the world going to the openings of all Apple stores. In the I.T industry, it is considered normal to define yourself by your preference , for example as an Apple person or a PC person. This is partly because the sea is so huge that one person cannot truly, intimately know every corner, island, reef and hazard so people specialise. If you talk to a specialist, you will hear all the advantages of his or her preferred technology but maybe not an unbiased assessment of it. The biggest debates include Mac vs PC and IPhone vs Android but such wars break out all over the Seas of Technology.
As a business person, I’m assuming that you don’t care about words on a web site unless they make a difference to how you achieve your goals here and now, or into the future. A debate between academics at a famous American university or students here in Australia makes little difference to what technology best solves your problem. I would understand if you are feeling confused and overwhelmed and wondering if there is any way to get at the truth. There is good news. You don’t have to worry about who is right. All you need to know is what is right for you. Keep reading! We will show you how to determine that. There are only two things you need to know, the outcomes you want and what questions to ask to determine if the proposed solution is going to meet them.

The first few posts in this blog will be a guidebook to help you plan or guide you along the way on your journey through the Sea of Technology. The sea is beautiful but it is not the natural environment of humans and dangers lurk for us if we are not on our guard. So too, with the Seas of Technology. Sharks lie in wait for the unprepared and those who swim at dusk. Storms build up suddenly, with high winds, thunder, lightning and driving rain. Occasionally , slick-looking pirates without their cutlass, eye patch or parrot and hence hard to recognise, roam. Rip currents can sweep you up and quickly take you where you don’t want to go. In this post, I will discuss each of these dangers and how to avoid them.

Storm building

Sharks

Sharks in the Seas of Technology do  not have triangular fins. In fact, they are not fish at all, but humans whose behaviour is unethical and whose motivation is what is in it for them, profit at all cost. The good news is that there a simple defence against this species of shark. The following steps give excellent protection against them

1) Know exactly what you want before you buy. If you don’t know, research it until you are sure in your own mind that you do. Have a clear definition of what you need it to do  and make sure it does it.

2) Do not agree to anything unless you are sure, always compare prices and products

3) Resist any attempt to rush you if you have doubts

4) Check the reputation of sites and sellers before buying anything online. Follow your bank’s recommendations for keeping your credit card safe and consider having a prepaid card for online shopping or use Paypal.

5) If still unsure, go away and come back later. Talk to someone you trust .

6) Be very skeptical of unsolicited calls and email as there are a number of well known scams

7) Resist up-selling . You know what you want. Stick to it.

If you consistently do this, sharks should not harm you.

Storms

Storms cannot be prevented, nor can floods, bush fires, volcanoes or earthquakes. However, if you identify and prepare for the risks to your business, you will be well placed to cope with them. When purchasing technology, build resilience into your plans. Examples are buying an external drive for backup when you buy a laptop, and considering how you will charge a new phone  or tablet when on the road or if there is a lengthy interruption to power supply. In the wet season in Northern Australia, floods and cyclones have been known to cause power outages for a week or more. Thunderstorms are far more common but sudden, and frequently cause short power outages. Things to consider include

1) what if the power fails

Can I keep my business running? What would I need to do so? What about charging a mobile phone?

2) what if I have to evacuate my main place of business

Can I work from anywhere? Are the simple changes which would mean that I could (like backing files up to the cloud or to a portable drive).

For those in Brisbane, we may have major disruptions to access and transport this November with the G20 summit. We will keep you informed when we find out more about this.

3) what if there are transport disruptions

4) how to keep information secure e.g prevent theft

Keep up to date with security updates offered by your computer and device manufacturers and updates for specific software.

If there is an auto update function on your device, use it.

If it is recommended that you use antivirus or firewall software with your device, do so.

5) how to prevent accidental loss of information

Back up regularly and to more than one source! If you use a cloud provider, have a local backup as well.

Pirates

The pirates on the Seas of Technology may be disguised heavily. Piracy often  involves making copies of music, movies or programs that you don’t have a right to make under the licence agreement and often on selling them or uploading them to certain web sites. Steer clear. Not only are you breaking the law and risking the consequences but such sites may be riddled with viruses and other harmful programs, known as malware and you have no access to technical support if anything goes wrong.

The other type of pirate will try to hijack your computer for their own ends, either by sneaking into it and stealing data, stealing your broadband quota or making your computer part of an underground network sending out spam and viruses. To keep them out, make sure you install all the updates recommended for your device by subscribing to its automatic update service e.g Windows update . If recommended for your type of device ….

Rip Currents

The rip currents of Excitement and Sales Pitch pop up everywhere that technology is sold. Do jot get carried out of your depth! It is good to be excited but make sure you leave the waters if you feel things are moving too fast for you or you are in too deep. There is ALWAYS time to research prices and products and to know what you want and why. Limited time offers should not pressure you – there will most likely be a better one tomorrow . Check the reputation of the seller if buying online.

We will continue our guidebook next week!

Swim between the flags!

 

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