5 Reasons You Should Consider Managed Network Services for Your Business

Managed Network Services could be the next best move for your business.  Managed Network Services are on the move in a variety of industries for many good reasons.  Here are a few for you to consider:

Reason #1:  You can’t fix your own car anymore.

Sure, you’re smart enough to figure it out.  You may even have a garage, a buddy, a case of beer, and an open weekend to get the job done.  But the reality is this:  today’s cars are so sophisticated that they require some pretty expensive and sophisticated tools to do the job right.  I used to help my buddy tune up his GTO with a timing lamp and a beer.  Now we drop the car at the garage and go to the bar.

The same thing can be said about your Network. Your IT staff has people that are smart enough, but they may not have all the tools and time required to keep your IT engine running as smoothly as it could.  Managed Network Service providers invest in sophisticated tools to monitor and fix problems with your network quickly and efficiently.  And yes, these tools are expensive, so that’s why they spread that cost across many clients so you don’t have to absorb it all yourself. Continue reading

Increase your Competitive Advantage using Technology

We all want to grow our business, right? And for most of us, growing means we need to leverage our competitive advantage. Competitive advantage occurs when an organization acquires or develops an attribute or combination of attributes that allows it to outperform its competitors.  And so it’s important to understand exactly what your business’ competitive advantage is and how you can wield it to win customers.

Information technology can play a significant role in augmenting your competitive advantage, but businesses must ensure that the time, money, and energy they spend on IT is properly placed.

When I think of a business’ technology and how it relates to supporting competitive advantage, I think of the layers of a pyramid.  (And yes, it sort of maps to Maslow’s hierarchy for you Psychology buffs).   The higher you move on the pyramid, the more likely it is that technology increases your competitive advantage. Continue reading

“CryptoLocker” Ransomware Virus a Real Threat

At least one of our clients has fallen victim to a new ransomware virus called “Cryptolocker”  which is being transmitted through a false, “customer complaint” email.  This email contains a Trojan downloader as an attachment. Once it is delivered, the virus seizes and encrypts users’ files. Cyber ransomers then demand money to unencrypt your files.  (Probably not likely after you send them money.)  The only known option at that point is to wipe and restore.

Some steps you can take:

  • Do not open suspicious e-mail attachments
  • Utilize cloud-based (off prem) SPAM and Anti-Virus Protection
  • Backup regularly

Please contact the Pinnacle Support Desk if you have questions or concerns:

support@pinnacleofindiana.com or call 574.855.5311

More details can be found here.

The Laws of Technology Adoption: The Law of “The Hump”

Technology Adoption

When I think of technology adoption, I think of a Camel.  Don’t you?  Actually, when  I see a Camel, I think of its hump because it looks like a bell curveSo, as you consider your new technology project and the people it will affect, picture all of your users riding on top of a camel taking a magical trip across the DESERT OF ADOPTION.

Riding on the front end of the camel are the Early Adopters.  These are people who are automatically excited about technology not matter what.  You know them.  You might be one of them!  They use and adopt new technologies for the sake of technology itself.  They are happy knowing that they get to have a new toy!  They will be quick to adopt the new and toss out the old technology like last week’s leftovers.

Toward the tail-end of the camel are the Technophobes, or Luddites – this is a small group and they adopt new technology at a slow-to-never pace.  (And, as you can guess, they might be the people in your organization who are ready to fall off the camel all together.)  Continue reading

Learning Plans = Intentions

If you don’t create the budget for learning and development, your staff will not get the training they need to stay competitive and efficient. Your organization has to set the intention, not just react to a changing IT scene or a challenging economy.

Intention is everything, from closing a deal to deciding what you want to learn this year. One way that we work with intention with our clients is to help them create Learning Plans. It’s not a new concept, but one that served me well in my higher education days and fits nicely with business and resource planning. Knowledge must be at the top of your 2013 list, along with internal and external learning.

Jim Collins www.jimcollins.com, author of Good to Great, said, “It is my belief that continuing education in a company…will be one of the distinguishing forces that sorts the great from the good brands.” Learning Plans are like timelines that help individuals, teams and organizations achieve their educational goals.

Here are a few reasons why we use them.

  • To drive adoption of new technology and business solutions
  • Provides a timeline and roadmap for organizational and individual development
  • Learning Assessments empower organizations to use the correct environment, communication styles and incentives to facilitate behavioral change
  • Enable better use and efficiency of implementations
  • Learning materials reflect the level and/or role of the learner

Here are the results of using Learning Plans. Continue reading

Craig Sroda

Making Businesses Better – Together

Letter from our President, Craig Sroda.

If you’ve met me in person, you probably know I am a person who can be pretty darned enthusiastic. I am passionate about things like my family and cars. And, I get flippin’ pumped about technology. I love business and thinking about the future with customers and drawing out their dreams in whiteboard sessions. (I’ve always said, “My whiteboards are my art.”). I love making businesses better.

Back when Maurice and I founded Pinnacle in 1996, I was super excited because we could build a team and bring technology solutions to businesses and make them better. It was cool as crap back then and it’s still cool as crap today! (I know, but it’s just how I talk.)

Ten months ago, I had been looking for ways that Pinnacle could serve our clients better and for ways to reach new customers. It was about that time I met Steve Klatt, CEO of Advanced Imaging Solutions.

If you’ve ever met Steve, you know he’s a great guy. You know he has vision, integrity, and an incredible business sense. We hit it off right away. We discovered how much our two businesses complimented each other and how similar our corporate cultures and values were. Over time the question, “How can we help each other find more clients?” became, “How can we serve our clients, together?” Continue reading

The Laws of Technology Adoption: The Burning Ship

“Quemo Los Barcos” is Spanish for “Burn the Boats.”

So, the story goes that in order to avoid mutiny before going into battle against the Aztecs, Hernan Cortes ordered his men to burn their ships so that they would have no other options available to them – they needed to stay and fight. There would be no going back to Spain.

It was fight and win … or die trying.

And while burning his boats may have been a really good way for Cortes to ensure his people did what he wanted them to do, we’ve learned that management by threat of death doesn’t sit well with most employees (nor with HR directors.)

Today, when it comes to technology adoption, many companies think a little like Cortes did. That is, they simply “burn down” their old systems by disabling them and leaving their people with no other options. And while this can be an effective way to get 100% adoption, we know that forcing people into behavior change is usually not a good way to get the best out of your people. Just like that old Cheap Trick song, I Want You to Want Me, we always want users to WANT to use our systems.

So, The Law of the Burning Ship isn’t about burning things up, it’s about starting emotional fires. It’s about creating a burning platform for change and helping users see the benefits that the technology will bring to them. It means fueling a burning desire within our people to embrace the technology and use it to its fullest.

So, how do we begin to create our burning platform?

First, we have to make sure we have a rock-solid business case behind the project – this is the WHY behind the initiative. To drive desire, the WHY must be compelling. If the case for the initiative is not or cannot be compelling, then there are probably larger questions that need to be asked.

Second, the WHY must be acticulated simply – so simple a 6-year-old can understand it. If a simple explanation cannot be found, scope must be reexamined, communications re-crafted, or perhaps a new champion assigned.

Finally, communication on the WHY must be clear, consistent  and relentless. Over-communication is seldom listed as a reason for technology adoption failure.  There should be no ambiguity from anywhere in the organization about the who, what, where, when and the Why.

Technology adoption is critical to your organization’s success.  Remember, no matter how perfect the solution, or how smooth its implementation, or how under-budget the project is at completion, it doesn’t matter one iota if the technology doesn’t get used as it was intended. The Laws of Adoption are real and should be considered as you undertake any technology initiative. Be sure to subscribe to Pinnacle’s free  24 Irrefutable Laws of Technology Adoption video series to help ensure your technology adoption success.

Whiteboard Session: Endless Possibilities

Whiteboard Session

A blank piece of paper is filled with opportunity. The opportunity to express feelings, thoughts, or pictures is possible with a blank piece of paper. Blank pieces of paper can also be shopping lists, invitations, maps or contracts. The possibilities are endless.

If you consider a Whiteboard as a piece of paper, and begin to think about your company goals and objectives, the current state of the infrastructure, the number of applications, data sources, workflow and processes you have, the possibilities of enhancing productivity while improving the infrastructure may also seem endless.

And though the goal of the Whiteboard Session is not to overwhelm with possibilities, we do wish to identify valuable options. We begin by engaging the customer’s team in formal discussions to identify the strategic layers of each organization: Business Strategy, Application, and Infrastructure/IT. Next, we provide a snap-shot of the current state of the systems and processes. Finally, we look for areas of improvement to reduce risk, enhance productivity, and align strategy and systems with the organization’s goals and objectives.

Each Whiteboard Session serves as the preface to the Technology Roadmap (TR). The TR is a 90-day, 1- and/or 3-year timeline for project implementation. [Link Reference to Previous Blog about TR.] The identified projects are the result of collaboration by the customer representatives at the Whiteboard Session. After agreeing on a timeframe for the projects, we document the project in a TR for project tracking and management.

Typically, we also discover a plethora of Excel spreadsheets in use. Because Excel spreadsheets are most often created by manually inputting data, or importing information from multiple datasets, silos of data become common place. Reconciling this information to reports created by others is nearly impossible as the datasets for the two reports may be different, and/or the search criteria may be different.

We also discover infrastructure opportunities for improvement. For instance, when considering hosted or cloud applications, the infrastructure must be configured to support the user base and the hosted application. Many of the customers we meet with today are not cloud-ready. We help them budget for changes to allow for cloud adoption.

In reviewing the data sources, we identify the data sources for ERP, Sales/CRM, Data Management, Data Imaging and Line-of-Business. We look for current and missing integration points between data sources, overlaps of data, and duplicate data entry processes. It is during this review where process improvement occurs. When automation of processes and reduction of manual data entry can be accomplished, costs are reduced. Creating a system that incorporates automated processes with sharing of information throughout the organization provides a streamlined approach to managing data sources.

Once the data sources are aligned, Business Intelligence (BI) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be mined. BI and KPIs are presented in real-time to decision makers as dashboards. Where previous information was individually and manually gathered and stored in Excel and/or Access, it is now stored in SQL databases. The SQL databases are accessible by all the users (with appropriate security) and data can be mined to provide real-time statistics.

Think of three key pieces of information that you wish you had each morning that would streamline your decision making process. As an example, for each of the roles below, the following information may allow for more informed decisions:

  • Sales Manager: Total Pipeline per Rep / MTD & YTD Deals Closed / Activity Tracking
  • Warehouse Manager: Inventory on Hand / Number of Back Orders / Efficiency of Order Picking
  • Production Supervisor: % of Scrap / Number of Lines Operational & Issues / Efficiency of Lines
  • CFO/CEO: % Sales to YTD Goals / Safety Statistics / % Scrap to Revenue

In order to gain this valuable business information, the systems, applications, processes, data sources and infrastructure must be in sync. Through the Whiteboard Session, Pinnacle identifies, advises and assists in aligning customer’s business strategy with IT strategy to attain achievement of company goals and objectives.

MSBUILD PATH Quirk Fix

I just made a quick fix to a perplexing MSBUILD problem easily and quickly and thought I would share it.

Every project we undertake has a series of Continuous Integration builds defined:

Automated Build (builds on check-in to Source Control)

Nightly Build (builds each night)

Deployment Builds: Integration, UAT, Staging, and Release as appropriate.

We use Team Foundation Server 2010 (TFS2010) for Source Control, and Team City for Continuous Integration management.

For the second time in probably a year, I had a set of builds suddenly start failing after the developers changed path structures, with the symptom that MSBUILD complains that a .CSPROJ file does not exist on the specified relative path. On investigation, the path is found to be exactly where it should be. I have had problems with path lengths in the past, so I checked both path lengths and found them to be less than 200, which should be fine. I ran across a Microsoft Reference during my research which pointed to a known issue with MSBUILD where the combined length of the calling project and the relative path of the referenced project equal a specific number (259).

Even though my quick NotePad++ line length count indicated I had not hit the magic number, I made a quick change in the VCS root by adding one character to the root(s) of the impacted builds. Sure enough – problem fixed.

TeamCity makes this easy.

Each project in the build has an associated Version Control Setting Root (VCS Root)

Each VCS Root can have one or more checkout rules defined to change path structures or filter out portions of shared projects not needed for the particular build. One convention I adopted early on was to add a short root name to each VCS root in order to keep relative paths equivalent during the CI Build process. (Short names are key here due to inherent path length issues when dropping down several levels in the project).

Example:

Project1
SharedProject1
SharedProject2
SharedProject3

Becomes:

PCProject1
PCSharedProject1
PCSharedProject2
PCSharedProject3

Final paths look like:

C:BuildAgentwork87b81e895d8dab89PCProjectNameSharedProject1Pinnacle.Customer.SharedProject1.FunctionFunctionFunction.csproj

C:BuildAgentwork87b81e895d8dab89PCProjectNameSharedProject2Pinnacle.Customer.SharedProject2.FunctionFunctionFunction.csproj

C:BuildAgentwork87b81e895d8dab89PCProjectNameSharedProject3Pinnacle.Customer.SharedProject3.FunctionFunctionFunction.csproj

TeamCity automatically adds the random subdirectory name (in this case – 87b81e895d8dab89) to the work folder for each build.

I use a two letter combination to define the TFS Collection in which the VCS Root lives, in this case PC for Pinnacle Collection – our general collection for most projects. We have other collections for DataBase SourceCode (we use RedGate Source Control), collections shared with vendors or customers, etc.

The two letter convention preserves the tree structure found in the development environments, and allows relative paths to walk up and down the structure as needed.

TeamCity allows you to add the pseudo root by transforming the path as code is pulled from SourceControl through the use of VCS Root Checkout Rules.

My original checkout rule looked like:

+:.=>.PCProjectName

Which simple says, Add “PCProjectName” to the beginning of the directory structure for everything pulled from SourceControl.

I simply changed the VCS root checkout rule in each referenced root to be:

+:.=>.PC1ProjectName

Making this simple change to the checkout rule changed the total path length of the problem references enough to bypass the MSBUILD path quirk.

Total time to research: 2 hours.

Total time for fix: 5 minutes

Enrique Lima

The path to MCSE:SharePoint. The Overview.

There have been changes to certifications recently and with that new challenges and requirements. In the past, we had MCTS and MCITP or MCPD on a specific product and that was it, now the story is somewhat different. You will need to not only know the product (yes, I am one that still focuses on knowing a product not the test), but also the environment on which it sits or lives (therefore Windows Server and supporting services).

The requirements for MCSE: SharePoint now takes you through the MCSA: Windows Server 2012. Many have questioned this, I don’t. Why? I have seen plenty of “accidental SharePoint Farm Administrators” that have no background with the Server OS, much less with the services (like DNS and IIS). Again, I am not saying this will guarantee knowledge, but it does in some way require exposure to it.

So, again, the next number of posts will be to provide guidance for the needed knowledge for the test requirements. If you have seen the way I go about this, you know I don’t focus on exam questions, but rather providing guidance to the TechNet and MSDN documentation to get to know the product. I will also, in this case, go through the process to setup your virtual environment to play with the products and get to know them.

Now, the requirements themselves are:

MCSA: Windows Server 2012.

Exam 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012

Exam 70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012

Exam 70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services

There is also an Upgrade Path which means only one exam. This requires you be Certified as an MCITP: SharePoint Administrator, and then pass the following exam:

Exam 70-417: Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012

SharePoint specific exams.

Exam 70-331: Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013

Exam 70-332: Advanced Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013

Passing the 5 exams will grant you the MCSE: SharePoint credential.