Create a technology roadmap for your clients

It’s the start of the year and I always get asked to help prepare the IT budget. This includes determining the top 5 big purchases for new initiatives or maintenance upkeep/version upgrades to ensure we are up to date on warranty and support. This is a daunting task especially if you don’t have a technology roadmap for that client.
You can use MS Excel or MS Visual Studio to create this roadmap. I like to use MS Visual Studio because the flowcharts let you drill into the subpages. It’s basically an inventory of all the technology that the client uses. This includes these major categories – Server and Workstation hardware, OSes, user/core applications, IT management application; collaboration tools; website providers; domain providers; extended warranties; etc.

Once you have this inventory, put each of these items in a flowchart box separated by pages for each major category. Line them them all up in a line for the current 2011 year. You could put in previous years and move the boxes to those years if you know when they were implemented or installed. After that, create new lines for 2012, 2013, and 2014 to forecast what you would upgrade to migrate to for each items in the current of coming years.

You would have to meet with various business users/sponsors to see what they want to move to for each item and do some research to see what the lifecycle is for each of the hardware and software listed. Having a ‘guestimate’ technology roadmap is a good start.

I think this provides great value for your clients and will show your proactiveness, especially when they ask for your help in budgeting for the year.

Writing web plans more effectively

I recently had a chat with the owner of an online flower shop and was sad to report to him that the updates to the web plan were still pending and that I regrettably advised him to look at other web developers to complete his site.

I had an approved web plan proposed for him in Q4 2010. After going through the design and testing to ensure changes would work, the owner had come back with complete revisions that didn’t include original scope. What do I do at that point? We unofficially agreed on a new budget for the revised changes but I haven’t been able to generate a revised web plan with scope and authorization sections to ensure I can get compensated for any work started.

Too much time has elapsed and I think this is partially due to the original scope change that had me lose interest in this project. I wanted to let him know first thing in 2011 to look at other developers to get the job done because it is important to set realistic expectations to the customer. More importantly, I believe expediting delivery of approved/signed web plans at the start of the project is key. If you allow revisions to sidetrack you, things like this will unfortunately happen.

This is just my 2 cents. What is your stance or ideas on writing effective web plans?

4 things to consider with extended hardware warranty

The systems maintenance visit last month was the perfect opportunity to try out the hardware maintenance support for one of our clients. The office was purely a Dell shop, with Dell PowerEdge servers, Dell Vostro laptops, Dell Hybrid Studio, Dell tape drive, etc. We had a CD drive issue with one of the workstations and a keyboard issue with the laptop. Dispatching support was easy and straightforward. Dell works with local Dell technicians and they will deliver and install the parts as long as you are positive what the issue is. And even if you aren’t, they will help you go through some troubleshooting and diagnostics before sending out a dispatch with a parts replacement.

This works well and is mandatory for critical business equipment like servers. We have had to request for parts replacement on the server at least once in 2010 and purchasing extended warranty after base warranty expires is a no-brainer. The costs for 4hr24x7 support is also reasonable at under $2K for each server. I cringe a little for having to justify this to some clients. Hardware failures can bring a business to a halt because it is not easy to acquire replacement parts from your local computer store on a weekend, at midnight.

Our other client is an HP shop and has agreed to purchase 1-year extended warranties for older systems including tape drives. They also have spare server parts from a previous migration/upgrade so we are keeping that around in case we need it. They don’t have the budget to purchase newer spare servers and I’m trying to convince management to reconsider. They just don’t see enough value in a server that would stay dormant and unused.

Some things to do to ensure you have some form of ‘extended warranty’ for your systems include 1) marking all system expiries in your calendar; 2) working with your reseller to co-terminate warranty expiries on the same date; 3) keep spare hardware around for parts; and 4) ensuring you have a consistent hardware standard used in your business, i.e. use all Dell or all HP or all IBM systems, etc so that you can ‘borrow’ parts from other working systems.

Do you have any comments on hardware warranties for computer systems?