The Importance of Documentation

Documentation is a vital part of what we do as a Managed IT Service Provider.  Customer intelligence is finding out things like how customers use applications, their experiences, and personal preferences – whilst ensuring that we can easily access the information in a secure manner.

Good documentation makes the entire process of providing support services more fluid and this translates into a more efficient and positive support experience for our clients.  Everything from new hardware and software configuration detail to 3rd party usernames and passwords are all centrally recorded which gives us the best platform to provide a great customer experience.

Good documentation is the base upon which 1st class customer service is built. It enables reactive situations to set the stage for proactive “Wow’s”, and it bolsters a team culture by making sure team members have the tools necessary to address customer concerns as effectively as possible.

We use a secure and agile cloud based solution which allows us to access all documentation relating to our customers using the internet.  This means that we have access to our full repository of information where ever we go.

Our documentation is effectivity in one location and fully integrates with our Service Desk system. All documentation is easily searchable via company, assets, hardware, software and known fixes to issues, this intuitiveness alone makes us more efficient.

All documentation is stored securely requiring multi factor authentication, which ensures that the data can only be accessed by authorised staff.

The system we use has the powerful capability to link documents to equipment, hardware, software, vendor, known fixes and more.  Linking enables us to easily identify which pre and post steps are necessary to complete a job at hand which may not have been known until the linked documents is seen.  This intelligence evolves over time as we use the system linking becomes mature which benefits all our technical team.

As a Senior Support Engineer, being passionate about good documentation is a must, as it not only makes my life easier but it directly translates to a positive outcome too.  After all, good documentation is an investment in future efficiency.

Rob Haggerty joined Select Technology in 2016 as Senior Engineer and has become an integral member of the team.  Rob is responsible for infrastructure and server related tickets as well as escalations from the junior team. Rob blends great technical skills with soft skills, perfect attributes for a customer facing support role.  Rob’s passion for service excellence drives his dedication to continually help us improve all areas of the business including developing our documentation solution.

Leveraging the Power of Azure – Dipping Your Toes in the Cloud

I was recently speaking at a Microsoft-sponsored Azure workshop held at Select Technology. Talking to the customers it become clear very quickly that lots of them struggle with inflexibility and lack of scalability within their current IT infrastructure.

Unlike some of the enterprises I have worked for in the past, small businesses are not always fortunate enough to have large and redundant server/ network infrastructure which can be used for unexpected workload increase or simply research and development (R&D). Sometimes it can simply down to physical growth, the server room cannot host any more hardware.

In fact, I was recently talking to one of our clients who were looking to upgrade, or even possibly replace, two of their core business applications. The challenges they had were: one, no hardware to utilise for R&D and two, they preferred to test the product before investing in it to establish if its fit for purpose. The only option they believed they had was to put some capital investment into server and storage hardware, to be able to test these applications. We will see later on in this blog how we addressed these challenges for the client, without any investment in the hardware.

In this blog we will see how you can start looking at Azure to migrate workloads. Azure is a truly hybrid public cloud, which gives you the ability to leverage the power of the cloud in conjunction with your on-premise infrastructure.

Hybrid Public Cloud? Another IT buzz phrase?

Not really. How many of you out there are already using Microsoft Office 365, or online accounting packages, and still have files and applications on on-premise servers – if you do, you are hybrid. More and more application vendors are now providing online alternatives for their products, so hybrid environments are becoming more and more common.

So how can you start dipping your toes in the Cloud?

Research and Development – Azure gives you the ability to test new applications by quickly spinning up virtual infrastructure. It gives you the ability to get it wrong – yes that’s right, you don’t have to worry about over or under spec’ing hardware or a solution. Going back to the example at the beginning of the blog, we created 3 virtual machines for the client in Azure to test their new applications and make a decision on whether or not they wanted to adopt the application. It gave the developer the freedom to work on the application and right size the servers before going Live. The biggest advantage that they had was that they could simply turn it off and it will not cost them a penny, but what if the client had invested in the hardware to test the application, and then discovered it’s not fit for purpose?

Storage in Azure – Many of you Infrastructure engineers out there will be able to relate to this. Storage is one of the very expensive components in the IT infrastructure but no one really wants to own the data. People leave but data never leaves, it’s kept for that “just in case moment” and it’s the same with shared and application data. So it makes sense for such archive data to be migrated to Azure storage. Typically for the same amount of SAN storage, you can buy 4 times the Azure storage for archive data.

Extending your current infrastructure – If your infrastructure is at its full physical capacity, Azure becomes an obvious choice as it’s truly hybrid. It supports site to site VPNs and dedicated express routes into the Azure. You can host services into Azure without physically expanding your current server room.

Backup and Disaster Recovery (DR) – Many of the small to medium size businesses operate from a single premises. Data is backed up to a backup server on the same site and most of the time in the same server room. The only form of offsite backups are tapes or external hard drives. Gone are the days when once an evening backups were sufficient. Businesses want frequent backups throughout the day (refer to my colleague Russell’s blog of 16th May here). In addition, what about DR if you don’t have a secondary site? Azure’s site recovery manager gives you the ability to easily and economically have a DR solution without having the need for a secondary site.

Public Facing Apps – Businesses no longer operate in isolation. There is an increasing demand on businesses to share data with clients, partners and suppliers. If your infrastructure has the capacity and your internet lines are fast and resilient, you can probably achieve this internally. But what if they are not? I will give you an example of another client we recently worked for, who was in similar situation. The Customer had a 70-30 split between mobile engineers and office based staff. They were looking to upgrade their “Field Resource Allocation” software, accessed both internally and by the mobile engineers. It made sense to host the software at an easily accessible and central location and Azure was the obvious choice for them. The application is now in Azure, and accessible by both office based and mobile staff.

The sky is the limit when designing new solution and incorporating Azure, due to the hybrid nature of the platform. Above are just a few examples to provide food for thought but just imagine the possibilities of working with more mature workloads such as:

High Performance Compute
Business Intelligence and Analytics
SAP and SharePoint on Azure

At Select Technology we have a hybrid cloud-centric ethos and this is reflected by our Microsoft Gold Small and Midmarket Cloud Solution Partnership. Speak to us and we can help you with the options you have available to leverage the power of Azure.

Written by Mantej Yadav, Senior Project Consultant, MS Office 365 and MS Azure MCP.

With over 12 Years’ experience in Technical Roles ranging in Public, Private and Charity sectors, Mantej brings the experience working in the large corporates and passion for utilising IT tools to achieve business objectives.

With keen interest in virtualisation and cloud technologies, he is the in-house Cloud-Evangelist – “I get a buzz out of working with clients to identify their business IT requirements and design an IT solution which enables them to achieve their business objectives”.  

In addition to the providing IT Consultation to the clients, Mantej is keen on presenting and benefits of modern IT tools and speaking at events like Kent Vision Live 2020 and at Microsoft sponsored workshops.

Is Your IT Support Like a Leaky Boat?

I wrote a thought provoking blog back in August called the “The IT Service Value Paradox – “How not calling your IT Support Company is actually better value for your business

I thought it would be a good opportunity to follow up and put a bit more context surrounding this concept and ultimately what makes us different here at Select Technology.  Those who know me will know that I love a good metaphor, after all, in an often overly complicated world; it is a great way to simplify things and help re-frame people’s perspectives.  So here goes:

Support with no proactivity is like a team sitting in a leaky boat, a vicious cycle of continually bailing out water with seemingly no time to fix the holes while randomly drifting along with no plan for the direction of the boat or its desired destination.

Dissecting this metaphor and applying it in the context of the real world IT Support looks like this:

  • Think of the boat representing a support company’s clients
  • The people are the support team
  • The holes are clients risks and support exposure
  • The incoming water is the relentless incoming support
  • And the boat direction/destination is support strategy.

Of course in this situation any thought regarding proactivity is hampered by the relentless incoming water, the boat is therefore slow to move forward and reach its desired destination and the people are caught in a vicious cycle.

Whether in-house or outsourced, in IT there is always a degree of reactive time but most people would agree that not enough proactive time is available which just isn’t good for the business.

The value of our service is not judged by how many times you call us for help or how fast we react when you do – it’s actually about how we reduce risk and improve your business through our unique processes.  After all, when you call for support it’s because technology is limiting your business rather than complementing it.

We are different at Select Technology.  Alongside our busy Helpdesk – we have dedicated teams and unique processes designed to continuously look after our clients proactively resulting in better results.

  • We have teams whose sole purpose is to find those holes in the boat and devise strategies to remove or reduce them
  • We have teams who spend scheduled time onsite regularly reviewing our clients infrastructure against our best practices to ensure risks are mitigated
  • We have Leadership teams who meet with our clients quarterly to have business discussions and how technology can help achieve their business goals.

Our unique approach brings stronger and more predictable results, which fundamentally reduces business risk meaning we enjoy relationships that are more positive with our clients.  For us it’s about positive actions which lead us all to positive results.

The Consequences of Your (in)actions

If you were ever to make the journey down to the Select Technology office, as you walked through the door, you would be greeted by a wall that spells out our guiding principles as a business.

One of these values relates to Innovation. We believe that to be the best organisation we can be, we owe it to our customers to be continually improving. Looking at what we do and how we do it and changing where needed to ensure that we continue to be successful.

Innovation is an interesting concept. Some organisations seem to think that Innovation means change for changes’ sake. Some believe that Innovation and change are essential and will embrace change at any cost. While these viewpoints both have merit, most organisations choose to exist somewhere in the middle, keen to embrace the positive benefits of change but wary of breaking something that is fundamental to the success of their business.

Change, for good or for bad, should in my opinion always be embraced. Meaningful analysis of the impact of specific changes can help highlight the benefits and mitigate the risks. A thorough understanding of what works well within your business (possibly by embracing critical analysis of your business using tools such as Power BI) will help you gravitate toward changes that are positive by nature.

The reality today is that change is a constant. The digital economy means that, no matter how fast we run or how hard we work, someone will always have just worked out a more efficient, more streamlined way to do something, think of Blockbuster & Netflix or Text Vs. Instant Messaging.

Innovation in business can be tough. Wouldn’t we all love the time to be able to stop what we are doing for long enough to be able to analyse WHY we are doing it. However, to ensure that we are always at the forefront of our industry, this is exactly what we must do. We are genuinely seeing the death of “but that’s the way we have always done it.” Sure, there are organisations that believe that is right and will continue to say it, unfortunately for most organisations that think this way the clock is ticking.

Let’s look again at Blockbuster Video. In 1997, when Netflix was formed, Blockbuster was worth $8.4BN. They were utterly convinced that their way was the best way forward. They believed in it so completely and were so resistant to change that when, in 2000, when Netflix approached them about a merger (Reed Hastings was asking for only $50M for Netflix to become part of the Blockbuster business) they sent the internet upstart packing. The rest, as they say, is history. Netflix is now worth $65BN, at the time of it’s demise in 2010, Blockbuster was worth only $24m. Blockbuster did launch its own online streaming service, but by 2006 when it was launched, Netflix already had almost 10 years of experience in the market and Blockbuster just couldn’t compete.

We all owe it to ourselves to continue to have an open mind about how things can be done differently. That organisation that comes to you and tells you they have a new way of doing things should at least be listened to. It might not be the right way for you to go forward but no longer can we simply dismiss these approaches as we have done in the past. That is exactly what Blockbuster did.