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Go Fish: A Technology Journalist’s Torpedo Term

April 25, 2015 Comments off

gofishIf I tell you to “Go Fish,” you’d better do so and realize that there’s something awry with the product in question. I’m warning you about something and you should use your Google powers to find out what it is that I’m trying to tell you. I rarely resist telling and writing my opinions, which should be refreshing to you as a reader and as someone who wants to be educated on a particular technology, service, or company.

Allow me to explain.

As a technology journalist, product reviewer, technology writer, columnist, podcaster, videocaster, and full-time “in-the-trenches” technologist, I look at hundreds of products, services, and companies every year from one angle or another in the context of testing them for their print worthiness. I draw on my many years (20+) in this business to make those determinations and I do them with great discernment and caution. I consider it my duty as a journalist, as a writer, and as a fellow technologist to give you honest answers and assessments of those products, services, and companies. You might not always agree with me in those assessments, but know that they are honest and they are well thought out on my part.

The reason that I’m posting this is that I’m asked pretty often on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, and through email if I’ll evaluate a particular product, service, or company. Most of the time, it’s for potential inclusion in an article or in a review. That’s the way it works. Public Relations professionals, company representatives, and interested parties ask me to look at something because they want attention for it. For those that deserve it, I’m more than happy to help out in that effort. However, there are those that don’t deserve it for one reason or another and I don’t bother with them. I don’t normally ‘pan’ a product, service, or company unless it’s something so vile, so dangerous, or so ridiculous that I have to do so.

yardstickThe Rules:

If you ask me if I like product X, service Y, or company Z, and I do, then I’ll tell you that I do. I also tell you why I do. I’ll probably also suggest that you read my articles about that product that you can easily find using your Google powers.

If you ask me and I simply direct you to an article, then it’s a signal that you should ponder it more extensively. It’s not a no, but it’s also not a yes. It’s rather a “You should look into it further and draw your own conclusions.”

If you ask me and I tell you to “Go Fish,” then brother or sister, you should beware. ‘Go Fish’ doesn’t mean that I’m telling you to go jump in the lake, but it does mean that I’m telling you that either I’ve looked and decided not to touch or I’ve looked and am a hater. In either case, you should proceed with caution. You should use your Google powers and search for “Ken Hess Product X” without the quotation marks, where ‘Product X’ is the product, service, or company in question.

Endorsements and Reviews

Just so you know, I’ll never endorse a product that I don’t like. If I like a product and would recommend it to a friend or colleague, then I’ll endorse it. That goes for reviews as well. If I review a product and give it a great review, it’s because I genuinely like the product. I recommend most of the products I’ve reviewed to other people. For example, my wife’s boss was looking for a cover for her iPad mini. I reviewed the Dux case by STM Bags back in January 2015. When she asked, my wife and I recommended this case to her. She promptly bought it and loves it. See how that works?

pet_rockNow, if she had read the review first and purchased the case based on my review of 10/10, and been unhappy because I didn’t give an honest review, that would ruin my credibility with her and with anyone else who read it and bought it. However, we loved the case. My wife uses it on her iPad and won’t ever use anything else (probably).

This is also why it takes me longer than most people to do reviews. I use the product. I don’t just open a box and mess with it for a few minutes. I put the product or service through its paces. I’m not an ‘unboxer.’ When I tell you that a product is good, great, or awesome, you can believe that my experience was just that. As always though, your mileage may vary, but I do my best to give you an honest look.

I love cool technology. I love great products. I get genuinely excited about products, services, and companies. For example, I’ve written several times about a product and company called 2X. It’s an incredible product that’s easy and fun to use. Parallels (another company I’m really excited about) bought it.

I write about my experiences with products and services. I actually use the products that I review. If I wouldn’t use them or if they don’t live up to the marketing hype, I don’t review them. For example, a company sent me a product for review and I was super excited about it and couldn’t wait to show my son. When he came over the next day, I brought it out to show him and during my demonstration, part of the product broke. He tried to fix it. I tried to fix it. I told the company about it and they offered to replace it, but I said no. I just wanted them to know that it had broken and it shouldn’t have. I didn’t abuse it; it just wasn’t made well. I didn’t post the review. It was a $99 item that didn’t last 24 hours under normal use.

torpedoThe Bottom Line

I write about technology. If I see a technology that I like, I write about it. I don’t have to be prompted, prodded, or coerced in any sort of way. I don’t write about everything I see. Some things I prefer not to mention because I don’t like to give bad reviews. I write about technology that is innovative, creative, important, intriguing, disruptive, or a combination of those. If I haven’t written about it, either I haven’t looked at it or I have and I’ve decided against writing about it.

You can ask me (please do) if I’ve seen something or taken a look at a product. If I have and I like it, you’ll know it. If I’ve looked and decided not to touch it, for whatever reason, please heed my advice and go fish.

@kenhess

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How a Managed Service Provider Can Help Your IT Career Hit the Big Leagues

October 18, 2013 Comments off

[Contributed article by Patrick Zelten]

BatterUp

There is a saying among baseball players in the Dominican Republic that “No one ever walked their way off the island.” It’s used to explain why players from that region are such “free swingers.”

While conventional baseball strategy might dictate that you only swing at good pitches, and that a walk is as good as a hit, players from the Dominican Republic know they may only get one chance to impress a Major League Baseball (MLB) scout and get signed to a contract that will get them off the island and to the USA. And the only way to impress those scouts is to hit the ball hard. So they pass on doing what’s expected in order to focus on doing something that will get them noticed.

That’s an approach ambitious IT managers should embrace when it comes to how they spend their time. However, typically the majority of their time is spent keeping the lights on – i.e. performing all the routine maintenance tasks that keep current hardware and software running smoothly. In fact, according to Gartner the budget is broken into two parts — continuing IT operations costs or “keep the lights on” money (circa 65%), and new projects for business improvement and change (circa 35%). Source: Gartner CEO Advisory: Three Changes You Can Make to the Way IT Innovation is Framed, Mark Raskino, Jackie Fenn (28 June 2013).

It’s important work. Perhaps even mission-critical in some respects. Yet it’s also what’s expected, mere table stakes. In fact, you might say that while letting the lights go off regularly will certainly get you noticed in a negative way, meeting expected service levels—no matter how much skill, time and effort it reflects—will likely do little to advance your career.

To become a superstar within the organization, you need to do something spectacular – something that helps transform the business for the better, or at least delivers noticeable value to it. You need a home run, not a walk. But how can you hit that home run when the bulk of your day is spent monitoring, tweaking, patching and otherwise tending to the day-to-day needs of the organization’s technology?

This is where bringing on a managed service provider (MSP) can help. If you can hand off most of the 65 percent “keeping the lights on” duties to an MSP, you will gain back time for you and your staff to perform more meaningful work. The right MSP can also bring you new ideas that have worked with other companies or in other industries – ideas you can suggest to your management that make you look brilliant. And “brilliant” is definitely a good reputation to have when you’re looking for a career boost.

Striking out the fears

 So why don’t more IT managers bring in an MSP? For many, it could be a misunderstanding about what an MSP is. They may still think of it as 1990s-style outsourcing, where entire internal IT departments were shut down and their functions moved to an offshore provider to drive down costs.

Here in the second decade of the 21st Century, an MSP is not a replacement for an IT department. It’s an enhancement to it.

The objective in bringing in an MSP isn’t to reduce head count; it’s to free those minds to develop the innovations and make the kinds of contributions that only internal personnel, with their deep knowledge of the business, can create in order to add value to the business.

IT managers may also hesitate to bring in an MSP if their performance reviews depend on documenting a high uptime. In those cases, they may feel pressure to take personal responsibility for performing the actual work. Yet the evaluators don’t really care who keeps the lights on, so long as they stay on. By choosing the right MSP, and holding them to a higher service level agreement (SLA) than the organization might be able to commit to internally, IT managers can still meet or even exceed performance goals without having to invest a lot of time in the day-to-day operations that make achieving “five nines” uptime possible.

One other factor that may be preventing the move is concern about a loss of control. IT managers may fear that the MSP will come in and start dictating policy or telling their staff what to do. Yet that’s not the way a proper MSP/client relationship works.

Instead, the MSP should be viewed as an extension of your IT department, operating under the same business policies, security protocols, approval and rule change procedures etc. as internal personnel. It’s still your IT environment. The MSP may make suggestions, but in the end it’s you who makes the decisions.

Going to Bat

Once you’ve decided bringing in an MSP is a good idea, it’s time to go to bat for them; in other words, build the business case. Generally this involves identifying an area of need and showing how the MSP can fill it immediately.

The MSP should be able to assist you with demonstrating the business value. They can help you identify areas of need, develop service level agreements (SLAs) that meet or even exceed your internal department’s current performance and lay out penalties if those SLAs are not met.

For many organizations, the business case for bringing in an MSP is made based on staffing needs. For example, perhaps you’re having trouble finding or retaining the right skillsets to maintain the level of security demanded by the business. You can show how bringing in an MSP that already knows the security technology you’re using can solve the problem faster, and more cost-efficiently, than hiring and training a new internal staff member. After proving themselves with this project you can use it as a lever for other work.

You might also consider using an MSP to provide local (or remote) support for one or more branch offices. As they demonstrate their value the program can grow until they are providing support for multiple solutions, or even the entire organization.

A third possibility is in cases of rapid growth, where it is difficult for the internal department to keep up with technology patches, upgrades, user provisioning and other maintenance-type work. The cost to hire, train and provide benefits for internal resources to meet the peak demand versus bringing in an MSP to fill the gaps will likely easily justify the MSP; once they have demonstrated their value it will be easier to explain how they can take on additional work.

Of course, in the end you have justify the cost by demonstrating the ROI. If the MSP can deliver the service faster and at a higher level than your internal department, that’s great. If in doing so they allow your team to get to other work that improves profitability or creates a distinct business advantage, that’s even better.

Swinging for the Fences

Beyond the what and the how comes the “why?” Why you should make the effort to bring an MSP on board and integrate them with your in-house team? The reason is that there are several ways working with an MSP can help advance your career.

As mentioned previously, the most obvious is by giving you and your team time to do great things instead of spending your days merely keeping the lights on. Rather than punching out a few singles or taking a walk here and there and hoping someone notices, you can really swing for the fences with dramatic projects that have sweeping, long-term impact on the organization.

Beyond that, though, by working with an MSP you’ll gain access to a broad range of knowledge and experience your team may not possess. In their role as consultants, the MSP can offer suggestions on ways to approach a business issue that your team may not have thought of. They will likely be able to help you build the business case by pointing to other successful implementation in which they’ve participated.

An MSP can help drive cost optimization as well by providing focus on your maintenance tasks. For your internal staff, maintenance involves things that have to be done, even though they may not be the most exciting. For the MSP, however, that is their primary focus with your organization, and in order to keep the engagement they must do it well. This focus will help you ensure your environment is kept current with all patches and updates. It will also help you avoid staffing challenges by having a “bench” to call on when the situation requires it. It could even help you lower your costs. Most importantly, though, it will give you and your staff time to focus on areas that are core to driving the business, which will make you look like an all-star to the front office.

The overall impact of these contributions is they show you to be more strategic and less tactical. Which is exactly the impression you want to make when you’re looking to advance your career.

Make It to the Game

homeplateJust as no one ever walked their way off the island in baseball, it’s highly unlikely you’ll advance your career by doing only what’s expected. You need to do things that have a positive, noticeable effect on the business.

Working with an MSP can give you the time, knowledge and resources to make a major league improvement in your organization while helping you move to the top of the lineup for your next job. And that’s a home run in anyone’s book.

Patrick Zelten is the vice president of managed services for Forsythe, a North American IT infrastructure integrator headquartered outside Chicago. He can be reached at pzelten@forsythe.com.

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