Calling all SMB Innovators – Where are you?

Warning: This is an opinion piece and quite honestly, a rant. You have been warned.

Our business has been supporting the technology needs of SMBs for 12 years now, after we stepped out of the corporate world. The early years were comparatively easy – a business wanted I.T. support, we’d upgrade a server or two to newer software and bigger hardware and the addition of remote monitoring and management tools consolidated our efforts across our customer base. Nothing really extraordinary there.

Then along came the Cloud. I’ve written before about how the adoption of Cloud has varied amongst SMB IT Pros (excluding their customer base). For those who are now familiar with using, supporting & migrating to Cloud-based applications and/or infrastructure, there was a learning curve for sure as they picked up a new skillset.

To a point, IT Pros can handle a ‘replace your on-premises server’ discussion, if Cloud is a viable option for an SMB. To clarify further, this scenario involves replacing one piece of software functionality with another one that’s comparable. Yes it normally involves some number crunching, but it’s familiar and do-able, for both the customer and the IT Pro.

That’s often where the conversation stops. Sign up for a migration, chuck your data in the Cloud, carry on working as normal (with hopefully some cost savings or at least improved reliability).

Meanwhile, the tech community is buzzing with AI, IoT and VR. Is any of this valid for SMBs?

Maybe, but maybe not yet due to economies of scale.

Somewhere between these two extremes is a massive potential for business benefit that SMBs are missing out on because of one thing and one thing only: Change. Or, more accurately, lack of it.

It’s going to take a very skilled IT Pro (sales skills, not technical skills) to convince an SMB that their whole organisation should change their email client, even if the whole organisation is 20 people. It’s going to take a very skilled IT Pro to convert an SMB to using Cloud storage for documents (not file sync), when they are used to mapped network drives. It’s going to take a very skilled IT Pro to convert an SMB to using Sharepoint Online instead of Word documents for policies and procedures, Wunderlist or Office 365 Planner instead of Tasks, Slack or Yammer instead of group emails.

Are IT Pros up for the challenge? Do they have the knowledge of (and heart for) the business side of the business and corporate change management (cultural, not ITIL)? Can they convince an SMB CEO to fundamentally change the way that things have always been done, in order to (hopefully) improve productivity and give them an edge over their competitors? By the way, you’re more than welcome to apply that paragraph to any aspect of SMB life, not just Cloud computing opportunities.

Should they have to?

Yes, it’s a fundamental part of the sales role to understand the business benefits of a technology solution. But to accept and implement a change of ‘how things are done around here’, a CEO needs to see more than just a list of business benefits.

They have to want to change.

And many don’t.

I’ve also talked about Innovation as a Habit before – pushing past innovation as a big scary thing and adopting regular small changes instead. Yet it’s still hard to convince most SMBs that if they want different results, they need to start doing things differently. Frustratingly, they have a great ability to be agile if they want to be. It’s much easier to turn around a 10 seat tug boat than it is to turn around a 2,000 seat Enterprise cruise ship (or should I say, starship?).

A lot of tech chatter in my world is focussed on Startups. As a 12yr old business, I ignored it. I was wrong. If you want to shift your world, you have to think like a Startup.

So, I’m calling on all the SMB innovators …. The small businesses who are prepared to think and act differently, not because they are starting up but because they are a long way away from being a startup. Where are the strong leaders who are prepared to lead their SMB through some procedural and cultural change? Who’s no longer prepared to accept “the way things have always been done around here”?

It’s not the IT Pro’s responsibility to convince you to change your organisation. It’s their responsibility to advise you on the options & tools you have available to effect that change.

Because it’s not the technology that counts …. It’s whether you’re prepared to use it.

-SCuffy

How to get the ATO Business Portal to work on Windows 10

ATO Business Portal

The ATO Business Portal is vital to Australian businesses. This secure gateway allows us to provide reporting information to the tax office, to meet our compliance regulations.

It’s understandable that if you do any of those kind of tasks (either for your own business or someone elses), you need to know that the website and it’s AUSKey authentication is going to work before you upgrade to Windows 10.

The goods news is – it does work.

This is thanks to Internet Explorer 11 which is still included in Windows 10 and is still supported by the ATO – https://abr.gov.au/AUSkey/Help-and-support/Setting-up-AUSkey-troubleshooting/AUSkey-compatibility/

What you’ll hear a lot of is that the ATO Business Portal doesn’t work in Edge, which is Microsoft’s new browser in Windows 10. It’s designed to be clean and responsive and doesn’t allow for add-ons like Java .. which is needed for the ATO Business Portal.

What you are going to find when you visit https://bp.ato.gov.au in IE 11 on Windows 10 is you might be blocked because your Java version is out of date. Let me pull that apart in English and explain how to get everything running smoothly!

How to find Internet Explorer 11:

In the ‘Search the web and Windows’ bow, just start typing Internet. You’ll see the Internet Explorer Desktop app at the top of your search results. If you right-click on it, you can select Pin to taskbar and it will sit on the bottom of your screen for future use.

Finding Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 10
Finding Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 10

Set IE11 to always open:

If you use a lot of websites that are dependant on Java or other ‘plugins’, you might want to set Internet Explorer 11 as your default browser instead of Edge. To do this, start typing ‘set default browser’ into the Search the web and Windows bar. This brings up ‘Choose a default web browser System settings’ at the top of your search results.

Set Default Browser
Set Default Browser

Click that, scroll down to the Web Browser section and click the Microsoft Edge icon and then click the Internet Explorer icon. To exit this screen, click the X in the top right hand corner.

Change Default Browser
Change Default Browser

OK, now we’ve done all that, we can just start IE11, type in https://bp.ato.gov.au and we’re good, right? Well, almost.

If Java hasn’t been updated, you might be presented with this:

AUSKey Java Error
AUSKey Java Error

Click the http://www.java.com/verify link and let’s go and update Java!

How to update Java:

  1. Even the Java verify page itself might throw up an error box at the bottom of your screen:
Java blocked - out of date
Java blocked – out of date

2. Click the Update button.

3. On the Java update page click Agree and Start Free Download. Click Run when the file download pop-up appears.

Updating Java on Windows 10
Updating Java on Windows 10

4. If User Account Control also complains, click Yes to allow Java to make changes to your computer:

User Account Control Java warning
User Account Control Java warning

5. Follow the setup screens to update Java and uninstall any old versions:

JavaSetup1JavaSetup2JPGJavaSetup3JavaSetup4

6. And when you hit close .. the Microsoft Edge might still want to load and give you a Java warning. Just close Edge with the X in the top right hand corner:

Java in Microsoft Edge
Java in Microsoft Edge

7. Close ALL open browser Windows, then re-open Internet Explorer 11 and go to https://bp.ato.gov.au

Allow Java to run:

Almost there! Now that Java has been updated, you’ll get another couple of Allow prompts to click Run on. Put a tick in any box that says ‘Do not show this again for apps from the publisher and location above.’

JavaAllow AuskeyRun JavaRun

And finally, you’ll see the good old Login box with your AUSKey credentials!

Login

A final word … 

While this seems like a lot of mucking around, Windows 10 is offering a new level of security protection by blocking out of data Java software. Java has had several high profiles hacks, where developers have used the code to gain illegal access to your computer. All of these are fixed by Java releasing a new version with a security update. So, not running old Java versions is a good thing!

Once you’ve updated Java, you won’t have to go through all of these steps again .. until Java releases a new update.

Subscribe to my blog by entering your email address above and I’ll notify you when a Java update comes out. I also have a new post coming to show you how you can use the Microsoft Edge browser to draw on web pages and collaborate with others, which will feature Xero.

-SCuffy

How to become known within your Industry: Show Up. Contribute. Share.

People have started asking me how I have made so many connections with other people in IT, especially overseas. When I examined it, it turns out it’s just a by-product of how I engage with other people and get connected into groups of peers and ‘hero’ speakers/writers. It’s nothing I specifically set out to achieve.

I’ve published my thoughts on LinkedIn’s Pulse blog site:

http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-become-known-within-your-industry-show-up-contribute-sonia-cuff?trk=prof-post

-SCuffy

How SMB IT service providers view the Cloud

It’s not news that IT is an ever-changing industry. The skills that I learnt when I first started are now mostly irrelevant. I say ‘mostly’ because some of the fundamentals of disks, files, networks etc still hold true (once we’d migrated off token ring anyway). And I still use the command prompt to search for files. But when I started, there was no Cloud, no social media, no phishing, no virtualization, no sector based backups and no ADSL. File storage was done on a Novell Netware server or three, with a bank of dial-in modems for remote access.

Cloud computing is a pretty major evolution which is impacting my SMB market segment. But it’s not the first – I rode the wave to transition from a break/fix mentality to a managed service approach. And I watched as my peers rode the same wave, with varying degrees of success, or just tried to ignore it. Ignoring it has worked for some – I still know IT providers who sell blocks of hours. But I also know how much better our service management is (and how much happier our customers are) with a managed services billing & support model. With any evolution, there are two parts that an IT provider has to handle – 1)how to change themselves and 2)how to get the customer to buy it. And by ‘buy it’ I don’t necessarily mean buy new product, but buy into the concept that a different way of working is indeed better for their business. With this in mind, no wonder IT providers are stressed about the Cloud.

The interesting thing is that Cloud computing looks different to different people.

Cloud providers will pitch to the customer the capability of Cloud computing and should seek to align its capabilities with real world business benefits.

Business owners may see Cloud as an opportunity for innovation and efficiency in their business. They may think it’s insecure & too risky. Or they may still have it in the ‘too hard’ basket, knowing that it’s a thing, but not knowing how it relates to them.

But for a Cloud solution to sell in SMB, a Cloud provider first has to convince the IT providers, who are often the purchasing decision influencer. And the IT provider is looking at Cloud through a whole other pair of glasses:

  1. What are the benefits to my customer? Not generic sales spin – real world, bottom line, relevant, applicable benefits.
  2. How do I convince my customer of these benefits?
  3. How does it work technically? What can I control & how?
  4. How do we transition a customer from on-premise to the Cloud?
  5. How is it going to affect my bottom line (most importantly, my product and services revenue streams)?

Don’t underestimate how big a challenge it is for Cloud providers to get IT providers on board. Sure, some have embraced the evolution early (some earlier than others), but the whole ‘Early Adopters’ through to ‘Technology Laggards’ spectrum applies to IT providers too, not just their customers.

Not all IT providers have the same capability for understanding business benefits, and as the technology gate-keepers, they are the first education point. Show me how this will help my customer, so I can tell them, so they will want to buy it. I don’t want airy fairy benefits. I don’t want case studies that are irrelevant. And I don’t want demos on working across cities when my SMB clients have one office.  Because if you can’t convince me, I won’t even try to convince my customers. And you thought CIOs were tough? It the IT provider doesn’t like it, they won’t sell it, period and they’ll convince the customer of all the reasons why they shouldn’t buy it. Often, addressing the IT providers objections is more than half the battle.

The technology challenge spans a few different areas. How does it work? Is it secure? How do I deploy it and migrate to it? How do I control it? The worst part for a traditional IT provider is the feeling of losing control. If email breaks, how do I fix it if I can’t log on to the server? How confident am I migrating live data to the Cloud with zero end user impact? What the heck do I do with backups?

With all those questions answered, they then need to feel confident enough leading their SMB customer through a  cultural change. Sure, moving your email service to the Cloud results in staff still using Outlook, for example, so not much of a shift there. But chances are their customers have never seen technologies like Sharepoint or Lync before. Or they may have started to ‘self-service’ and are already using public Cloud services like Dropbox. IT providers need to step out from behind their remote management tools and lead their customers through a new way of working.  This is a very overlooked part of a migration project but is arguably the one that most greatly influences if a customer views their move to Cloud as successful or not. It’s ultimately the part that’s the most rewarding – showing customers how to squeeze as much return from their Cloud investment as possible. But it’s also one of the most challenging parts of the project for an IT provider, especially one from a break/fix background. How to you champion in a change in how your customer’s staff work? And get their buy-in to change? And get everyone positive about it?

So far, those are some pretty good hurdles to overcome. I haven’t even elaborated on the changes to their bottom line yet & how Cloud will impact their current revenue streams (hint: you’re not retiring on Cloud commission alone anytime soon). As important as that is, IT providers are not going to profile Cloud solutions to their customers if they can get paid handsomely for it but don’t believe it will benefit their customer. Regardless of the commission, if they aren’t confident that it’s secure or if they don’t know how to migrate to it, they are going to hesitate and throw up road blocks.

That’s the real challenge for Cloud providers – addressing the IT providers as the technology gate keepers … and winning them to the cause.