Five Things Great IT Consultants Do

it consultantThink you have a great IT consultant?

Here’s a quick list of the five things that all great IT consultants do and do well. Are you feeling the love from your trusted IT advisor? Are they checking all of these boxes:

  1. Educate: the world of technology changes so quickly that it’s nearly impossible for business leaders to stay abreast of the changes. As such, your I.T. consultant should be educating your business leaders so they can make optimal decisions for the business.
  2. Create: with all the technology options (many of them good options) available to businesses today, there is ample opportunity to customize technology to meet the needs of the business very specifically. Constructing this type of environment takes creativity.
  3. Manage Risk: risk is inherent in technology – it’s just part of what you get when your business runs on technology. Today, with security breaches and the continued complexity of IT, the risks are only growing. As such, intelligent business decisions need to be made regarding these risks. Great IT consultants provide options and information to you about how to best manage your risk.
  4. Maintain: technology still requires good maintenance to run well (and to keep risk to a minimum). Maintenance may not be exciting, but good IT consultants will provide a structured, efficient, and detailed approach to maintaining your technology systems.
  5. Communicate: Communication is a mandatory part of providing really good IT service and good IT consulting simply can’t exist without it. Great IT consultants understand this and employ tools and resources that are easily accessed and understood by business leaders to ensure you know the status of your technology, what’s coming next, and why.

This blog originally appeared on ‘The Business Technology Place‘ – a website and blog run by our very own, Joe Ulm. Joe is a Senior Business Development Manager at Information Technology Professionals. Read this article, and more on his website.

The Changing Landscape of Managed IT Services

Growing tech complexity means that managed IT services are not what they used to be.

Not so long ago, it was popular for IT consulting firms to provide a 100% outsourced solution to SMBs for managing their technology. The idea behind the approach was compelling: the IT firm knows IT really well, let them manage it for you completely. This would allow the business to focus on the stuff they do well (growing the business). This approach was dubbed “managed services.”

Managed IT Services had significant success for a number of years and it provided real value to many businesses who no longer had to worry about figuring out the world of IT.  On the IT provider’s end there was significant value, as well. The provider could develop repeatable processes to limit variance and generate efficient models of support. They could maximize their technical resources by providing the greatest portion of their service remotely, which meant that wasteful travel time would be eliminated. And they could do a greater body of work with fewer resources.

Altogether, costs for the provider in this model became relatively predictable which allowed providers to deliver their services at a flat rate, thereby making a business’ IT costs predictable. Sounds like a classic win / win scenario, right?

It was.

But today the model is ineffectual for most SMBs. Here’s why:

  1. IT is more complicated than ever before. Which means that really good IT must include a whole lot more than just technology (and technology support). Rather, the best information technology for a business involves people, processes, and an intimate understanding of the business itself (to just name a few). This means that a sound technology strategy is required to be successful. Developing an IT strategy for a business is a complex, integrated, and creative endeavor which is neither easily repeated nor easily scaled – two required components of the managed service model.
  2. User Power. Users work on various devices from almost any location today because it’s an effective way to work. This complicates a company’s technology some, but user-productivity is generally of greater value to a business than the additional expense of slightly more complex IT (and the associated support). As such, much of the power in business (as it pertains to IT) is now with the user. A user-customized work environment requires specific, personalized technology support as most users now employ a suite of technology devices – all of which are hard to manage well via templated processes and scripts.
  3. IT at its best requires great communication – at the user level, to management, and at the team level. The best and most effectual forms of communication involve personal interaction. A phone and remote access are great tools for I.T. support, however, they can’t be the only form of communication or things become ineffective. Computerized call trees are a good example of this. Computerized call trees are the epitome of efficiency and process (at least for the provider). For the user, however, they’re often an exercise in pure frustration. The same is true for a business’ technology.  As the business technology world has become more complex, simple structures of communication can still suffice – they just suffice less often than they once did. A phone call and remote support may be fine for user support, but it falls woefully short for maintaining a strong team or updating management on the status of system upgrades, process improvements, and risk management efforts.
  4. IT has become a team activity these days. Many technology decisions are now business decisions. This means that both business and technology leaders need to be engaged in the technology discussion – an approach entirely contrary to the “we’ll-take-care-of-it-for-you” approach of managed services.

Interestingly, there is still great value in managed IT services – it’s just changed. Today, that value is being provided by cloud systems, helpdesk centers, and Network Operations Centers (NOCs) because the services they deliver are aligned with a highly structured, non-custom delivery model.

And that allows the IT consulting community to focus on the specialized, customized services SMBs need.

This blog originally appeared on ‘The Business Technology Place‘ – a website and blog run by our very own, Joe Ulm. Joe is a Senior Business Development Manager at Information Technology Professionals. Read this article, and more on his website.

The One IT Role SMB Desperately Needs…

Business Analyst…is the Business Analyst.

The Business Analyst is a combination of a detective and translator. These individuals take business problems and they figure out the process, tools, information, services, etc. necessary to fix the problem.

In today’s business world, the answer to most business problems involves I.T. at some level. The Business Analyst takes the business problem and translates it into consumable chunks for the I.T. team.  The I.T. team then develops a solution which the Business Analyst then translates back to the user. Once the solution is vetted and approved by everyone, a project plan is developed and the project is executed.

Given this description, most SMB executives find the idea a Business Analyst waste of resources at best, and patently ridiculous at worst. And that’s understandable. Here’s the question that most I.T. professionals don’t know how to answer:

Business Executive: “So let me get this straight…we have a full-time I.T. manager who earns a nice salary, we pay an I.T. consulting firm to support our I.T. Manager on top of that, and now you’re telling me we need to hire a translator to handle conversations between our users and the two I.T. resources we already pay!?”

In most cases the answer is, “yes.”

As crazy as it may sound, I.T. people – even most I.T. consulting firms – have really good technical skills and knowledge, but their business, process, and people skills aren’t so great.  Without these skills, here’s what happens:

  1. A business problem is identified.
  2. I.T. and users/management meet to discuss the problem
  3. I.T. finds a technical solution to the problem and implements it.
  4. Because the solution is technical in nature (and not a business solution), users/management find the solution lacking. They explain their concerns/issues with the solution to I.T.
  5. I.T. makes some minor changes or simply shows users/management how they can work around their problems.*

*An important aside: I.T. is already frustrated at this point because from their perspective, users/management didn’t give them all the information they needed at the outset of the project. If they would have had all the information (they contend), they would have suggested a different solution. Now they’re stuck with this one which they don’t want to support because it’s never going to be ideal and they don’t feel they can tell management they need to start over. From the users/management’s perspective, they couldn’t possibly know the right questions to ask (they contend) in order to get the necessary information to the I.T. team. This is the essence of the problem.

  1. So, I.T. makes some quick fixes, but problems still remain (or are now worse). Another meeting is scheduled.
  2. Users/management are frustrated, but they patiently explain what they need again.
  3. I.T. finally explains that their initial solution has limitations and that they were only given partial information at the first meeting.
  4. Management is frustrated because lots of time and money have been wasted with nothing to show for it.

If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ve experienced this exact scenario. The problem is I.T. people are trained to think and deliver technical solutions. This way of thinking and looking at problems is exactly what makes them so good at what they do. So time and time again, I.T. provides technical solutions to business problems. And every time the technical solution lacks effectiveness because business never needs a technical solution. Only business solutions matter.

So as crazy as it sounds…yes, people who know both business and I.T, people with strong social, analytical, and communication skills; and people who are process-minded, are needed.  Desperately. These people are called Business Analysts and they have a skillset that most I.T. people (and I.T. consulting firms) don’t have. Strange, but true.

This blog originally appeared on ‘The Business Technology Place‘ – a website run by our very own, Joe Ulm. Joe is a Senior Business Development Manager at Information Technology Professionals. Read this article, and more on his website.

ITP Security Event – Protect Your Private Data from Prying Eyes

Security for your business environment

Trouble Brewing: Secure your environmentThreats to your cyber-security are becoming more prevalent with each passing day, and our team feels a strong a duty to do everything we can to keep the bad guys out. Threats exist in unexpected places (and people) within your organization. Join Information Technology Professionals CEO Paul Hager as he presents ‘Protecting Your Private Data from Prying Eyes’.

Did you know… the average virus goes undetected in a business environment for over 210 days? This presentation will cover how organizations can protect themselves against the growing threat of viruses and other intrusions. During the session, Paul will share valuable information on how you can keep both personal and company information safe. He’ll discuss where viruses originate, why they are created, and whether or not anti-virus software is enough to protect your business.

Networking! Meet other tech-minded individuals in the area. This is a happy hour and networking event, with a short session highlighting tech advances in security. Join us to learn more about security in technical environments and have a beer with our team of engineers!

Learn how to protect and educate your team while securing and safe-guarding your business and personal information. We’ll share tips and tools for better protecting your most valuable assets. Join our team at the upcoming After Work Network being held August 10th and 11th in Madison and Appleton respectively.

Register now >>>

Now Streaming! 5 Reasons to Outsource IT

Outsource IT Webinar SessionThank you to all who joined Information Technology Professionals for our July webinar! Last week, IT Professionals VP Bill Henry moderated a panel of Wisconsin executives to discuss the ‘5 Reasons to Outsource the IT Department’. This panel included James Jackson, former President at Orion Energy and Brett Mantey, former IT Director at the City of Waukesha.

Each panelist shared their perspective on the critical decisions points that influenced this transition to totally outsource IT managed services, and the impact it had on the organization. James and Brett discussed the short and long term benefits of this approach, and the risks organizations take on when they outsource IT.

Considering Outsourced IT?

The session is just 30 minutes long and includes insight into the how, when and why of this transition:

  • When – Is the infrastructure of your organization changing dramatically? Are you experiencing a dramatic increase in IT support costs? These are typical signs that the time is right to outsource the IT department.
  • How – What will change immediately, and what initiatives will be rolled out over time? Our panelists share insight into what projects took the back burner during the transition, and which changes took the highest priority.
  • Why – What are the short term and long term benefits of this approach. We discussed why organizations choose this approach and the larger impact it has on the organization.

This session is now available to stream anytime, access this webinar recording using the form below. The Information Technology Professionals team hosts live and online events every month. We curate the technology information you need to know about emerging tech and trends in the industry. We share these insights during webinars, lunch-n-learns, and happy hour events. Check out our ‘Upcoming Events‘ page to see the events happening soon and near you.

Why Choose Converged Infrastructure?

You’ve heard the buzzword a time or two, but who is actually using converged infrastructures? Converged and hyper-converged infrastructures have gained a lot of attention over the last several years. Why? Companies continue to ask for easier setups for on premise cloud environments. The second factor driving this demand is the inexpensive availability of local bandwidth. 10GB and 40GB switches can be found for $5,000 or less. By passing both normal virtual traffic and storage over inexpensive commodity networks and switches, there are new options available… even to the small business owner.

Here are a few examples of ITP clients that have chosen converged solutions and why it was the right fit for them.

Scenario 1 – Small business that wants high availability, but doesn’t want to afford the SAN

Maybe you run a small business, and downtime just isn’t an option. Perhaps you’re a law firm where access to your practice management solution is the difference between billable time and non. Perhaps you run a trucking company where your ERP and inventory tracking is the only way to know if items are coming and going. Whatever your business, more and more small businesses are able to calculate the cost of even one day of downtime… and it’s too much.

The Solution? Dell VRTX. Dell makes a converged-lite single chassis system with redundant power, hard disks, CPU nodes and networking all in one box. It is truly a data center in a box, and the price point starts at only a few thousand dollars. Its capabilities and price point makes it competitive to a two server solutions with backup and replication.

Scenario 2 –  Small business with a 2 server and SAN setup, looking to simplify the data center.

This customer had a very traditional and stable setup: two servers running VMware with a SAN and storage switching. It’s a great solution which has proven reliable over the years. This customer finds it so stable they were looking for a way to make this stable environment even easier to manage.

Customer B in this scenario didn’t want to leave the traditional server – SAN setup at their main location but found it burdensome to maintain another set of servers and SAN at the DR location.

Dell VxRail

The Solution? Dell/EMC Hyper Converged Appliances called VXRAIL. All new this year, the VXRAIL combines CPU/RAM/SSD/HDD’s into standard 2U nodes. Start with just three nodes and scale out as you need it. It’s still VMWare under the hood, but it can all be managed from anywhere with a simple HTML5 web interface. So whether you want to simplify your primary workload or you looking to hit the easy button for a remote location or DR Hyper Converged can make deploying and scaling your private cloud easy with ITP vetted solutions.

Scenario 3 –  Mid-sized company with traditional multi hosts and replicating SAN looking to leverage the cloud.

This customer had the server and SAN from traditional vendors and they were spending a lot of time keeping everything up to date and replication going to their offsite location.  They were looking to utilize their data center more, their main location less and the public cloud.  They had business over seas and wanted to see how getting out of their data center with their data could meet their customers where they were… everywhere.

The Solution? A converged infrastructure custom spec’d and built on commodity servers that was place in their data center. This solution eliminated all of the client’s on premise equipment. Then the ITP cloud team moved these cloud-ready workloads to the public cloud and setup DRaaS to the public cloud for everything remaining on site. The result was a stretched SQL database across highly available data centers around the US that could respond to their customers’ requests faster all while simplifying their day-to-day management from two SANs to none.

ITP has built our business by creating and providing highly customized solutions and vendor selections to our client’s individual business needs. Converged infrastructure, Hyper-Converged infrastructure or maybe just a next generation SAN that doesn’t have the rising maintenance costs your experiencing now. Whatever your business does or needs – talk to us and we will hand-pick the right solution and even compare vendors for you. All without annoying sales people calling you every single day. The examples we share are real solutions from real ITP customers. Are you ready to be the next company with not just another network… but an ITP certified and selected network?

Ready for more? Come visit us and talk about converged infrastructure this week at our AWN event.  Register here >>>

ITP Named 2016 US SMB Champions Club Central Rising Star

ITP Rising Star AwardToday we are excited to announce that Information Technology Professionals has been named a Microsoft 2016 US SMB Champions Club Central Rising Star. Our team traveled to Toronto last week to attend the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), an annual Microsoft event for their reselling partners from around the globe.

ITP was honored this year as a Rising Star. This award recognizes the top new SMB partners in their individuals regions. The award is decided by overall revenue growth by new partners. The runners up for the 2016 Central Rising Star award included SpliceNet Legal Tech of Cincinnati, OH and Systech. Our team was honored at the SMB Champion’s Award Reception along with winners from six other categories.

“We are honored to be recognized by Microsoft as a Rising Star in our region. Our team is looking forward to serving clients with our industry-leading and unique Microsoft solutions deployment and support in the coming year. Microsoft is well positioned as the market leader in cloud collaboration, identity and IAAS/PAAS and ITP will continue to lead the way in deploying and managing these solutions for customers around the Midwest and beyond.” said Paul Hager, Information Technology Professionals CEO.

What does this award mean for our current and prospective clients? It means we are positioned, now more than ever, to serve our clients with our customized solutions that include Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools. We’re bringing top-of-the-line technical services and solutions to our customers, helping businesses in our community increase their productivity, which in turn, helps the local economy.

Read the full press release for this announcement. See all of the updates from the conference on the WPC website, or using the #WPC Twitter feed.

Tech Connect Event: Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

Information Technology Professionals hyper-converged infrastructureEfficiently manage your infrastructure, scale with ease and focus on business innovation.

Learn more about Dell and EMC’s VXRAIL web-scale solutions in ITP’s upcoming ‘After Work Network’ event. The event is being hosted at the MKE Ale House in Milwaukee, July 28th at 5:00 PM. Join us for discussion about hyper-converged infrastructure and meet our team of engineers deploying these solutions on behalf of our clients.

Why do organizations choose hyper-converged infrastructure?

Flexible Growth. Whether your business is growing quickly, or scaling in bursts over time, Hyper-Converged allows you to build incrementally as you grow. This flexible environment allows you to expand to meet future needs without over-provisioning. Allowing you to get back to focusing on strategic business initiatives.

Efficient Management. Manage storage for virtualized workloads at a VM level using policies based on the needs of each workload. Expand your storage capacity with the VXRAIL scale-out solution that has enterprise-class storage management capabilities — including automated tiering, thin provisioning, snapshots and replication, and compression and deduplication. Depend on a highly available, fault-tolerant architecture with comprehensive diagnostic and self-healing capabilities.

Learn what is driving the need for hyper-converged infrastructure, during this event we’ll outline the costs and benefits of the transition. Join us on July 28th in Milwaukee to learn how organizations are leveraging these solutions to deploy additional resources quickly and easily. Get more details about ‘Tech Connect’ on our event page.

Register for this event >>>