Archive for the ‘Customer Satisfaction’ Category

Finding Qualified MS Help

I had no intention of making every post about Microsoft, but it seems like that is the life I now lead. I guess moving forward, most of what I’ll be blogging about will be Microsoft-focused. You have been warned.

I am asked daily for recommendations for companies to assist other companies, and I always point them to same site: Microsoft PinPoint. PinPoint matches clients with Microsoft Partners, particularly the ones who have the expertise you are most in need of. Clients can search for partners with a required skillset, industry, and/or competencies, and partners can register on PinPoint with the services they offer. I have always recommend working with a Microsoft partner, for a variety of reasons, and using PinPoint ensures that are you receiving assistance from a company who meets Microsoft standards.


In the example above, I have searched for partners based on the business need “Cloud Computing in Guelph, Ontario” and I have 3 matches. If we examine the first result, BDO Canada LLP, we know the company has 2 gold Competencies, and has 11 positive reviews. We can then view the company details and decide if this company will meet our needs. We can also examine other results and compare them to see which one best fits our demands.

Pinpoint can help you find a qualified Microsoft Partner with just a few clicks of the mouse.

If you are a Microsoft Partner looking to expand your client base, you should register for PinPoint (it’s also completely free!) If you are already on PinPoint, please ensure your profile is up-to-date. Keeping your profile current can help companies in need of your service find you. As a Microsoft partner, for more information about PinPoint services, reach out to your partner manager. If you are unsure of who that is, please contact me for assistance.

P.S. I always recommend working with a qualified Microsoft Partner, and I’m not just saying this because of my association with Microsoft. Would you take your car to a non-certified mechanic? Why trust your data to an unqualified “professional”?

Server 2003 Resources for Partners

server 2003 websiteNow that things have settled down a bit, I can get back to spending more time here, on my little corner of the Internet. One of the many projects I have been working on lately has been a Server 2003 End of Support page for Microsoft partners.  As a partner, or even as an IT Professional, I found finding information for a specific Microsoft issue sometimes hard to find. One part of the answer may be in one location in TechNet and another part of the answer may be on the CanITPro blog etc.; and then you are stuck trying to piece it all together. We (being my MS team members and myself) know this can be a hiccup and we wanted to make it easier for you to find everything you need to migrate your customers, from 2003 to Server 2012 R2, Azure, and Office 365. This website was designed with you in mind. We have included everything you need from “Where to Start” to “I know what I want to do just point me to the relevant links so I can migrate” to “my customers don’t believe this is an issue, and I need to convince them and help me market 2003 EoS”. I will be updating this site as needed and to do that I need you to let me know what you need! If I’m missing something, or you would like additional resources, please let me know via either this blog or

Flying the Unfriendly Skies (Long Rant – Be Warned)

I don’t think I have ever ranted on my blog. Those of you who know me know that it takes a lot to upset me. I really try to roll with whatever is thrown my way (it is what it is) and keep a cheery disposition. But after another frustrating experience with a certain airline, I needed to express my dissatisfaction.

I travel for business, and like most business travellers, we are pros at getting out the door for a trip in short order. I can pack a bag for a 3 day trip in 10 minutes, breeze through security withoutever setting off the alarms (this does not include getting pulled out of line for hand-swabbing or pat downs – really, do I look like an evil-doer?), and have all required documents at the ready. I really enjoy travelling for work, that was one of the requirements that drew me to my current position. I love meeting like-minded people, talking tech, and getting out from behind the desk. The part I hate about travelling is the flying part. I would rather drive the 5 hours to Ottawa (even with 50 14-year-olds as I did with my daughter’s grade 8 trip last year) than jump on a plane for 60 minutes. 5 years ago when I flew quite often, I learned very quickly which airline I preferred of the 2 main choices here in Canada. I wrote this blog post as I sat on a flight following yet another frustrating check-in, and I promise myself I will never fly with this airline again. I understand delays, hiccups, bad weather, late-arriving luggage; that’s the nature of the beast, but this is the last time I will have this airline make my trip miserable and cause me to be delayed.

Back in January, I had to book return flights from Toronto to Montreal (about 500 km), and I choose this airline because of the timing. I have done this flight several times before, and I know from experience that this is normally a 45 minute flight. Long story short: what should have been a 4 hour trip door-to-door was 9 hours. I could have driven to Montreal, had dinner, and still had 2 hours to kill in the same amount of time. The return trip was better, but not by much, as we were delayed again. Did we receive any compensation? No. Anything? No.

I booked my most recent flight from Calgary to Toronto with this particular airline, again, because of the timing. I was supposed to have a full work day and this flight had the best time for me to leave and arrive home after being away from the kids and the dog for a few days. Between the bad jokes and tight seats, I normally only fly this airline as my second/last choice.

On this trip, I booked with my preferred airline, but the final leg was booked on my second choice. This airline changed their cut off check-in times to 45 minutes prior to departure. I agreed to this as part of the ticket purchase, but really didn’t give it a second thought, as I have never missed a flight due to tardiness. A few hours prior to departing, I planned to check-in online but while I was trying to tie up lose ends before the end of the business day, my laptop crashed; I ended up never checking in online. I arrived at the airport prior to the 45 minute cut off, but by the time I arrived to the departures terminal, I was 4 minutes past the 45 minute check-in. I explained the situation to the kiosk rep and was told I needed to speak to another rep, but it shouldn’t be any issue as I was only a few minutes late and didn’t have any baggage. She directed me to the customer service line, saying the line was moving quickly. Apparently, there is a difference between the meaning of “moving quickly” in Ontario and Alberta. There was nothing fast about that line. By the time I finally spoke to the rep, I had about 20 minutes to get to my gate. She called down to the gate and I was told I couldn’t get on the flight as boarding had already started. And we all know, boarding is a very fast process. If I walked into the terminal at that moment with a boarding pass, I would have made the flight, but the service rep was not being overly accommodating. My choices at this time were already limited as I had to be home that evening, so I had to pay the $50 to get on the next flight. The company motto is “[insert company name here] cares”. Really? I don’t think so.

I was in a similar situation with my preferred airline a few years ago. I was late getting to the airport due to weather and an accident on the highway. I arrived at the airport and spoke to a rep at check-in, as I had baggage that time, and they called down to the gate, told them I was on my way, then proceeded to expediate the security process. Since everything was in my checked baggage, the security check took no time at all; I was then directed to the gate, which I jogged to. The flight crew closed the door to the aircraft as I stepped on the plane. This didn’t delay our flight, as they had just finished boarding. I was more than impressed. By all rights, they could have left me at the gate.

I know that for my story, there are hundreds of others both for and against each of these airlines.

What gives the airlines the right take away our time and not compensate us when it’s their fault? I will do everything I can to avoid using this airline again. I’m tired of being treated so badly and don’t believe we should have to put up with it.

Categories: Customer Satisfaction Tags:

Is the cloud really that scary?

As I sit here putting together a presentation for this week on Office 365 (another great product), I know I’m going to get some questions about cloud technologies and subscription-based services. I love cloud-based technologies, but I do understand the hesitation. Here’s a list of the most common concerns I hear and my responses:

1. What is cloud? Ok…now I think my industry has done the general public a huge disservice. We (not me in particular) have made the cloud into this magical fairy dust and rainbow place, that is just out there. NO! In basic terms, the cloud is just servers sitting at a datacenter. Nothing magical there. IT, as an industry, has stop turning technology into a magical thing. Yes, what we do with technology can seem like it’s magic, but it takes skill and hardware, not fairy dust.

2. Is cloud safe? Yes! As long as you choose a reputable provider. Personally, I wouldn’t purchase cloud services from a company I didn’t know. Stick to the big names and you should be fine.

3. Are they reading my data? I don’t know the answer to that. I like to think my data is more secure at Microsoft or Google then on a USB stick that I left in a clients system. This would be up to you to determine what you want to store at these sites.

4. Do I need an Internet connection? For the most part, yes, you do. But depending on your solutions provider, you may have offline access.

5. Why is it subscription-based? Overall, IT is moving to a subscription-based model. For a small business, this planned expenditure eases the burden of unforeseen expenses. Remember, you are not only getting the service, but also the infrastructure behind it. Your small business no longer has to worry about purchasing the hardware, hiring technical staff, updating the server, or dealing with hardware issues. This is all part of your subscription fee.

6. Does the cloud service cost less than the on-premise solution? Sometimes, but again it depends on the solution provider. In the example of Office 365, with the level of functionality that is available, the small business used to be only available to the business that could afford to have everything in house, including IT professionals. With the subscription-based model the “big business” tools are available to the small business at a fraction of the price.

7. Is cloud just a phase? Personally, I don’t think so. If we look at how much we do online compared to even 3 years ago, it’s staggering. Take a moment to think about how much you do online every day both at work and at home. Could you work if you didn’t have Internet?

Cloud solutions are great, but they may not be the right solution for your company. Talk to your IT professional and they will be able to help you determine if it’s time to move the cloud.

Categories: Cloud, Customer Satisfaction Tags:

Keeping Your SMBs Happy

My last article (Bending the Sharepoint Rules) highlights some of the unique challenges SMB IT providers face. My solution may not have been the proper one, but it was the best solution for the client, and it’s working beautifully, by the way. Disclaimer: I would never compromise on the security of a client’s data and I would recommend the proper and best practices in those situations. In this case, data loss/integrity were irrelevant.

This client has about 20 internal staff and 100 employees on the floor operating over 2 shifts. They do not have an IT person on-site, nor a champion user to handle IT challenges. It is critical that their systems run automatically and without intervention. They also need simple solutions to their workflow needs that can be easily handled by the users, and a detailed “how-to”. This type of scenario is very common in the SMB world. Working with SMB’s is very different from working in enterprise: it’s never the same. Here are some of my tricks to keep my SMBs running smoothly, and allowing me to work in my jammies all day.

1. Understand their needs

Many SMBs do not know what technologies are available to help them.  Once you understand what they are trying to accomplish you can then suggest a solution that best meets their needs. Focus on what you can do to solve their pain-points and do it simply and within budget.

2. Work within their budget

Times are tight, and even tighter for small businesses. They are trying to build a business,  while paying their employees and bills. It’s tough. Once you understand their needs, make sure your solution stays within their budget. Yes, you may not always be able to install the top of the line hardware, but ensure that what you do install works well and solves their needs, and will meet their needs for an agreed-upon time.

3. Understand best practices may not always be on option

As already mentioned, budgets can be tight in the SMB space, and as IT professionals we understand best practices, but they may not always be an option. Again, come up with a solution that works, but ensure that the client understands the consequences of the decision after you have fully explained all the options and outcomes.

4. Keep it simple

Many SMBs don’t care about the technology; just make it work. That being said, they need the solution to be simple and understandable. For example, virtualization is a great technology, but try to explain it to a small business owner, and they probably don’t understand it, which means they won’t move forward with the project. They need to be able to understand the technology that is being used in their office. It’s important to keep them in the loop and involved in the process. This ensures that the solution is only as complex as they can handle.

5. Provide great how-to’s

Most SMB’s don’t have an IT person on-site, and in most cases, the closest person to IT support is someone who can make pivot tables in Excel. Once you have a solution in place, it’s helpful to document all the steps for the solution. This gives the users power to solve their own issues quickly.

As I have said before, working with SMBs is very rewarding and it’s never the same, but using my tips above, you keep your clients happy and solve their pain-points, while keeping the solution simple and on budget; and you will continue to grow your own SMB.

The Case of the Missing Pictures

BackupYou all know I love Microsoft Small Business Server, and my mysterious case of the missing pictures last week highlights one of the reasons why I will implement this solution wherever possible with a permanent backup hard drive in place. First, a little background about this client. It’s a small company of about 10 employees; which do not include anyone with more than basic word processing skills. They had an XP system that was being used as a file server, and several other older desktop systems being used by the employees. A year ago, we installed a new Small Business Server Essentials and 6 new desktops. More importantly, we also installed a 2 TB external hard drive to host their server backups. When the new infrastructure was put in place, they wanted to keep most of the server folders open and editable for all users.

A few days ago, the company’s “champion user” called the Bennett Business Connections Hotline in a panic; one of their event picture folders on the server had mysteriously disappeared and was nowhere to be found! The last time she recalled seeing the missing folder was a few weeks prior to her hotline call, and there was no evidence of how it was removed. As a proper Small Business detective, I assured her not to worry and that we would track down her pictures soon. To start the investigation, I logged in that evening and immediately accessed their backup. I wasn’t concerned about tracking down the data, I was worried about how far back we’d have to go to find it. To find the missing data, I launched the Restore wizard from the SBS console and started checking for the most recent backup that included the missing files. Aha! After some sleuthing, sure enough, a backup from 2 weeks prior contained the missing file. A few more clicks of the mouse and the mystery of the missing files was solved. What happened? It was elementary, my dear Watson: the files had all been accidentally deleted.

SBS is designed for the end user, and in this case (pun intended) I could have easily walked her through the restore herself while I was driving on the highway. Yes, I was using hands-free.

I do love SBS, but sometimes the design of the system allows users too much freedom to accidentally delete files. I would like to see more control and configurability for user permissions, like we have in the non-SBS servers.

Bottom line…make sure you have a good backup solution in place at all times in case a user accidentally deletes data.

PS: I did the restore while at a friends cottage overlooking the lake while tethered to my cell phone. Another great feature of SBS 2011 and Windows Server 2012 is their easy remote access.

Google & Microsoft…Bullies on the playground?

See the NOTE at the bottom.

See the NOTE at the bottom.

You all know I am a Google girl, and have been since Gmail was first launched. But lately I have been reconsidering my current relationship with Google. (See my article Email Affairs – My version of 50 Shades of Grey to read about my Google love affair.)

As I mentioned in that article, I was finding Google was becoming a little too controlling and I was becoming increasingly unhappy about our current relationship. After recent events, my patience with Google has been stretched thin. You see, Google and Microsoft used to play well together; but after the release of Office 2013, the two giants are and have been battling, and the consumer is caught in the middle of the squabble.

One of my clients ordered a new system from an independent shop with Office 2013, back in April. She then asked me to come in in May and set up her system in her home office. Honestly, I figured I would pop in, set up her Gmail Apps for Business accounts, configure the backup and Blackberry, and have a happy client within a few hours. You know what is said about best laid plans?

It turned out Google hadn’t released the Google Apps Sync for Outlook at the time I first went in during the month of May. I set up the client’s email, knowing she didn’t have the whole calendar/contact sync, but according to the Google forums at the time, it was coming soon. We just had a to be patient a little while longer. In the meantime, we ordered a laptop with Windows 7 and Office 2013 Home and Business from Dell. By that point, it was early June and Google has released the Outlook integration model (kind of). In mid-June, the Dell unit with MS Home and Business 2013 arrives and I quickly set it up, with the Google Apps Sync for Outlook, and the client is up and running very quickly, except for some tweaking.

Next I head back to her home office and to finish the setup on her desktop. Since Google has released their software, I am sure this will be a snap. Many hours later, after a discussion with Microsoft and a Google reseller, my client still does not have a proper working desktop system at home; and the worst of it: she is not happy, which upsets me.

And what has caused all of this grief, you may ask? This should be a no-brainer, right? Think again and prepare yourself and your clients for what is turning into a miserable mess.

According to the Microsoft reps I spoke to, Office 2013 is Click and Run only (unless you have volume licensing).  I don’t know about you, but none of my small business clients have volume licensing, because it’s usually unnecessary for their needs and budget. Google released it’s Google Apps Sync for Outlook, but it is not supported on Office 2013 Click to Run. Office 2010 was also Click to Run, but we had the option of downloading the msi and Outlook 2010, and Google Apps Sync would work seamlessly.

So what’s the solution? In this case, the client returned the unit she bought, and we ordered a new desktop from Dell with Microsoft Office Home And Business installed; as I have been assured by the Dell rep that the Office 2013 pre-installed on the Dell systems is not Click to Run.

Moving forward with this company, we will order all units preloaded with Office 2013 from Dell, until this mess can be straightened out.

Who am I upset with? In this case I am upset with both companies. I understand why Microsoft is releasing software in this fashion, but they should make an MSI version available, as they did with Office 2010, for those of us who want more control over our installations. But in this case, I am more upset at and with Google right now. Office 2013 has been available to the public for 6 months now, and the manufactures had it back in the fall of 2012. I am not a programmer, but if Google can make self-driving cars, how hard is it to get Google Apps Sync to work on the Click to Run version of Office?

Why can’t these tech giants all get along? These companies are forcing their clients to side with one or the other, and it feels like the bully in the schoolyard. Remember “if you play with him/her, I won’t be your friend”? Unfortunately, small business consumers are the ones who are going to be most affected by this, and I am sure we’ll hear more about this problem as time goes by, and more people move to Office 2013.

The playground is much happier when everyone can enjoy playing together, no matter where you come from. I think it’s time for both Microsoft and Google to grow up, and play nice with each other, and all the others on the playground.

Windows 8.1- Keeping my fingers crossed

Windows 8.1 Preview

Windows 8.1 Preview

I’ve been using Windows 8 since November of 2012, and I really want to like it, but as much as I try to enjoy it, I really find it frustrating.

I’ve been using computers since the days of DOS (Disc Operating System) , and I skipped the move to Windows 3.1 and fought Windows 95. By the time Windows 98 was released, I had accepted that we were going to move forward with a GUI (Graphical User Interface) and mouse, but I continued to use command prompt and keyboard shortcut keys. When I finally embraced XP, it was awesome; and I can still whip around the interface with or without a mouse. XP was straightforward, nothing fancy, and did what it was supposed to do, which is why it’s been around as long as it has. I was even one of those few people who liked Vista (it ran beautifully on my Apple MacBook Pro). Windows 7 was – and is – solid, and again, I could navigate the system without the use of a mouse. When I replaced XP systems with Windows 7, a quick how-to lesson was all that was needed and my users were able to get back to business in no time. So when it was time to replace my last Windows 7 laptop, I decided to order it with Windows 8, since I had to learn the new operating system so I could assist my clients as they move off of XP. (See my first impression of Windows 8 here).

(Really if you are still on XP you NEED to start planning to move off before April 2014.)

My new system arrived and I planned to spend a few hours getting used to Windows 8 (it shouldn’t take more than that to get familiar with the operating system) and setting it up. Two hours in and I was beyond frustrated and I had clients needing assistance ASAP, and I couldn’t figure out the basics. By the time my husband arrived home that evening, I was fit to be tied. I complained about some of my struggles with Windows 8, and how I was under the gun to help my clients, and I couldn’t; and he said I was a “such a user”. Well guess what, I am a typical business user and I don’t have a day off to learn a new system.

After having to Google how to restart the system, then figuring it out, I couldn’t imagine how my clients were going to deal with it on their own. The very thought of  plopping a Windows 8 system on a client’s desk and walking away from it was terrifying. As I start replacing/upgrading XP systems, I am still recommending and installing Windows 7 for my clients.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some really cool things with Windows 8 which I really like, but as it stands right now, I know my clients will hate the interface and will experience some of the same issues I did. The biggest complaints I have about Windows 8 are:

1. Too many clicks to get access the application/file I need. Overall, I find it takes longer to get to where I need to be.

2. Too many shortcut keys that don’t make any sense

3. That horrible “modern user interface”. This interface makes no sense for business use. I never use it, and curse loudly, with words that would make a trucker blush, every time I am popped into it.

For the sake of my clients, and many others, I hope Microsoft has taken a serious look at how corporate users use Windows 7 and make the operating more business-friendly. From what I have seen so far, it looks like 8.1 will be more business user friendly.  Looking forward to trying it. My 12 yr old son has already installed the preview and is enjoying the new features.

What are your thoughts on Windows 8 and Windows 8.1?

IT and Small Business – It’s the perfect fit!

MSBS Logo“I feel like my business is too small for my IT provider,” I hear on a regular basis.

These small companies are the companies I serve and work with, and so few of them get qualified, professional IT help. As an IT professional, you may think, “why would I want to work with a small business, when I could work with a larger firm, and have more benefits and career growth?” And you may be right, but only to a point.

87.5% of all Canadian businesses have 1-20 employees, and 54.9% of Canadian businesses only have 1-4 employees. These companies are the ones that need talented and qualified help the most. Unfortunately, they’re often the group receiving it the least. Small businesses cannot afford an expensive IT firm to come in and help them, so they end up bringing in someone who may not have the appropriate skill set, and that can lead to insecure, inefficient, and incorrectly configured equipment and networks; not to mention unhappy and frustrated users.

From proper networking and security, to backup strategies and remote access; there are so many technologies we can introduce to small businesses to make their companies more efficient. The technical concepts are no different than with big businesses, it’s just the scope.

Here are just a few rewarding reasons of being a part of this growing group of small business IT professionals:

Uniqueness – Every day, there’s something different. Within a single day, I can work on an accounting solution for a caterer, a remote access solution for a not-for-profit, and a backup strategy for a specialized piece of equipment for a manufacturer. You will always be learning, and coming up with new solutions to meet the unique needs of this group. Working with small businesses is, in my opinion, more exciting than with large ones (and yes, I have worked for very large companies). The budgets and needs are much smaller, so your solutions must be tailored to meet the current business structure, but always keeping the potential growth of the small business in your plan.

Sense of Community – Small businesses talk, work, and network together. With a small IT business of your own, you are also in the 54.9%. It’s amazing how we all help each other. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are supporting and growing your community.

Appreciation – These businesses are so grateful to have an honest and qualified person to assist them.  From my experience, many small businesses aren’t able to hire qualified assistance at a reasonable rate.  If you can come in, offer them the same solutions as the large IT firm, and do it at a fair and reasonable price; you will have a client and friend for life. Providing the correct solution allows them to focus on their business instead of the technology. The greatest compliment I have had from a small business is, “we never have to worry about the computers anymore, it just works”.

So before jumping into an IT department for a large company, consider working with small businesses.  It may end up being the most satisfying career you’ll ever have.

Statistic source:

Jammies to Bathing Suit – Wasn’t What I Expected


My first attempt at the “four hour workweek” didn’t go quite as expected. My family and I had a great vacation, but I learned some valuable lessons about working from the beach.  The main issue was that there was no Internet availability. The hotel advertised Internet, but what they consider Internet access and what I consider Internet access are two different things. ,Maybe it was just this resort or maybe it is an issue in Cuba, but either way, I had no access to my clients, or even email. I did have my phone, and in the end, I did have to use it (for a personal issue), and now I am dreading the bill because I didn’t add a roaming plan for the week we were away. If I had known about the lack of Interne,t I would have added a roaming package for the week.

Before I travel again with the intention of working in my bathing suit, I will:

  1. Confirm high-speed Internet access is available.
  2. Add a roaming plan to my phone, even if I have access to Internet.
  3. Ensure a have backup IT support to assist.

On the upside, because I wasn’t able to check email or assist clients, I was able to spend that time working “on” (instead of “in”) the business; but more importantly, I was able to hang out with my kids. I hated the feeling that I had no idea what was happening at home, but my clients knew I was going to be away and promised they would only email if there was an emergency. This relieved some of my “unplugged anxiety”. There was only one minor issue and my backup was quickly able to resolve it. I believe this alone proves that when your IT support does their job correctly, there really is no reason for your IT support to be on-site, excluding hardware issues. If your IT support is always on-site, or you have constant problems, then it may be time to consider having a second opinion.

Our next trip, aiming for the end of January, will probably be in the Florida Keys, where Internet access should not be an issue. I will also add a roaming plan so I can truly work from the beach, if I wish.

I can now take my experiences and help my clients work after they, too, get to play in the waves.

%d bloggers like this: