Choosing an IT Company in Birmingham – What to look for.

We all know the benefits of outsourcing IT? Lower costs, improved service, more expertise and resources etc, but we also need to be mindful of some of the drawbacks – unresponsive suppliers, hidden costs, lack of initiative…. This guide helps you pick the right IT support supplier and hopefully avoid those drawbacks.

1.How did you find out about them? This demonstrates how seriously they take their business. A provider that is willing to spend on its sales and marketing process is a sure sign of a business that is actively trying to grow their business and such will be able to cope with your growing business.

2. Location, Location, Location! – Most IT issues can be resolved remotely but for the rare occasion when an onsite visit is essential you need to be sure that your IT provider will be able to do so easily. How long will it take them to get onsite for your critical emergencies? 1hr is amazing, 2hrs is very good, 3 is ok anything more than 4 is a no no!

3. Check their credentials. If they say they have 20 Engineers and 3 Offices – visit some of their offices to make sure this is so (and while you are there look to see how they treat their equipment, if they are not looking after their own equipment how well will they look after yours?). Check their qualifications and accreditations – make sure they have what they say they have.

4. Cost vs Quality – The old adage applies – “you get what you pay for”. So although the cheaper option may look more attractive now in the long run it may end up costing your company more – however don’t be afraid to negotiate. Make sure you are getting value for money.

5. Find out what other services they offer. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need to call one company for IT support, another to look at your security, another to manage backups, or to help with an office move. If you have a good relationship then ideally you trust them to assist you in other areas.

6. Is there a trial period? Or at least a cooling off period? Many suppliers will have a minimum contract period, so it makes sense for you to trial their service before you commit.

7. Get references – If you do nothing else make sure you ask every potential supply to provide you with references so you can speak to their current customers – You should aim to speak with at least 3 references.

We are accredited Growth Voucher Scheme Adviser

I wanted to let you all know that Supreme Systems is now an Accredited Growth Vouchers Advisers.

The Growth Vouchers scheme is a £30m government programme designed to help small businesses get strategic business advice on areas to do with finance and cashflow, recruiting and developing staff, improving leadership and management skills, marketing, attracting and keeping customers and making the most of digital technology.

How does this affect my business

Well if you are considering getting strategic advice on any of the areas mentioned above, the government will give you up to £2,000 (50% subsidy) to get the help you need.

£2,000? What’s the catch?

See that’s the great thing – there is no catch, neither are there any hurdles to jump over. Growth vouchers are given on a random basis so your chance of getting one is fairly good.

Give me some ideas on how I can use my voucher to “make the most of digital technology”

The scheme is part of a government experiment to find out the impact of advice on small business growth so you can only use your vouchers to pay for “strategic business advice”​. ​

In relation to IT, the advice could be used for addressing the risks of cyber-attacks, or exploring how digital technologies can be used to reduce costs, improve productivity or quality control. Give me a call if you want to discuss how you can take advantage of this scheme for your business.

How do I find out more about the scheme?

Visit www.gov.uk​ (click on link) or the enterprise nation market place. I would advice you apply to receive a voucher even if you do not have anything in mind at present. Once you are approved you have three months to use your voucher. The scheme is due to expire March 31st 2015 and only 20,000 small businesses will be selected.

Give me a call, Angie Hart on 0121 309 0060 ext 2 if you want to know more about the scheme.

What is your Plan B?

IT plays such an integral role in the way organisations work that when they go wrong it can cause a massive disruption to day to day work.

 

We class an IT disaster as anything that prevents you from using your critical IT systems and accessing your critical business data. This can include:

•         Server Failure

•         A Power Cut

•         Sabotage by a disgruntled employee

•         Accidental deletion

•         Virus/Malware

•         Application Failure

The scenarios listed above are typical of those we see often – and can happen to any business. According to a research conducted by the Gartner Group in 2012, any company with poor or no DR solution will incur on average 29.4hrs downtime following an IT disaster.

 

How much will this cost your business?

Think about the loss in productivity, loss in income and most importantly how your business’s reputation will be affected if you are unable to work for 29.4hrs. That’s 4.2 business days! In our opinion, this is a mild estimate. We know of one business that was unable to work for two weeks following a server failure!

 

999RESTORE – the Disaster Recovery (DR) Solution from Supreme Systems can have you back up and running in just two hours following a major system failure

 

Some Features of 999RESTORE

 

4hr Return Time of Service

This is the maximum time that we guarantee you will be unable to work for. We can simply switch to your virtual server hosted in our data centre or replace your faulty server with a hot spare whilst we repair or replace faulty parts; resolve the issue or reconfigure a new server.

 

30 Min Return Point of Service

This is the maximum data loss you will suffer. Our solution provides 30 minute incremental snapshots of your system which allows for optimal recovery points.

 

Bare Metal Restore

Our solution allows us to restore your server as is – i.e. with all the software, applications and configurations ready to go as they were from the last snapshot.

 

Microsoft Exchange Granular Restore

Microsoft Exchange has become one of today’s most critical business applications and losing access to this data for even a short period of time can be damaging to any business. 999RESTORE from Supreme Systems recovers an Exchange server in its entirety quickly and seamlessly.

 

The DR 5

We all agree that having a Business Continuity Plan is essential to ensure your business continues as normal within a short space of time following any disaster. Disaster Recovery is an essential aspect of your BC Planning and below we have listed 5 key must haves that you should have to ensure a quick recovery.

1. An alternative place to work

No true BCP is complete if you do not have a place where you and your team (or your key people) can continue to operate from. Our recommendation would be to have a dedicated site for your business that replicates exactly your current infrastructure. If this is unaffordable, at least ensure the site you choose has good internet connectivity. We would also advise having your Work Place Recovery Site (WPRS) in a completely different location to where your business currently is – so if your business is based in Solihull, consider having your WPRS in Birmingham.

RE: Having your own dedicated WPRS site with replicated infrastructure – there are ways of achieving this that will not cost the earth. Give Angie Hart a call on 0121 309 0060 ext. 2 and she will tell you more.

2. Email Recovery

Our recommendation is for Exchange Online (Office 365) – which allows you to access your emails from anywhere. We are seeing many businesses switch to Exchange Online rather than having it on premise for this exact same reason as it provides complete protection and redundancy for their emails.

3. Critical Device Protection

We all have them – devices in our businesses which if they went “pop” would have a big impact on the business. We are not talking servers here…oh no – more the day to day items that allow our businesses to tick along smoothly. So think of your “manufacturing PC”, “the accounts laptop”, “the MD’s tablet or laptop”. Your routers and switches are key to the business and you should have some sort of provision to ensure that you can get replacements quickly if anything goes wrong with them.

Our critical device protection service guarantees to replace your critical devices within 2hrs – preconfigured and ready to go. We have seen a lot of interest for this service and it is no surprise considering that it can take up to 5 days to get a fully functioning replacement in place.  Yes warranties are good to have – but what good is a warranty when it can only guarantee a next day replacement (imagine if that replacement is your MDs laptop which he needs for his important business trip to China..) Want to know more? Give Angela a call on 0121 309 0060 ext 2

4. Get a good DR Solution for your servers

Not all DR Solution are made the same – so get a good solution that will offer bare metal recovery (so it captures everything, not just data but applications as well), allow for very fast RTO (how quickly you can get back up and running) and very small RPO (how much data time wise you lose).

5. Find an IT Partner you can trust…

Preferably one that understands how much of an impact the disaster could potentially have on your business (reputation, loss of revenue, financial cost of the business not working as it should) will happily work from 9 – fixed (be it in the evenings or weekends) and you can call at any time. Sounds like a company we know… :-)

We hope you enjoyed our post. Comment if you have any other suggestions to add to the list – or give us a call on 0121 309 0060 if we can give any assistance with your DR planning.

See how much you can save with Office 365!

Many of you will be planning upgrades to your servers and PCs.   If this is the case, you may be £s better off considering Office 365.

Microsoft Office 365 suite is a hosted, online version of the traditional installed version of Microsoft Office software. This online service is subscription-based and includes Office, Exchange Online (business class emails), SharePoint Online (document storage), Lync Online (video/web conferencing, instant messaging) and Microsoft Office Web Apps.

There are many benefits to using Office 365 – security, work anywhere access and better team collaboration are just a few of them. However the major benefit for many businesses will be the cost savings they make when they move to Office 365.

Office 365 is a subscription service so you pay per user per month. There are 7 different plans – the entry level package is Office 365 Business Essentials and Office 365 Enterprise E4 is its most comprehensive enterprise offering. Prices start from £3.10 to £16.10 per user. There is an annual commitment for businesses that sign up to the service.

In our experience those that save most will be businesses that require access to a shared location where their documents can be saved plus business class email. The added functionality of Office Apps and Lync is of course a plus. Businesses who run bespoke applications will need to run a hybrid infrastructure (i.e. a combination of on premise and cloud provisions) but there are still substantial savings to be had even with this type of arrangement.

So how much can you save?

On average, businesses will see year on year savings of between 25% – 80% on their IT costs.

We have outlined typical savings for a business with 20 users with year on year growth of 20% using Office 365 exclusively. We will use Office 365 Business Essentials for comparison (which in our opinion is sufficient for most businesses that will require the use of Microsoft Office applications and file storage).

Capture

That’s a whopping saving of 87% and we haven’t included the savings made from reduced energy consumption of running servers 24/7!

We know not all businesses’s IT spend and IT usage will be as straight forward as the scenario above (which is based on one of our clients) – we have created a cost comparison worksheet that will allow you to calculate how much your business will save (it will also make clear how we reached our numbers for the on premise costs above as prices for hardware and licences are fully broken down) To request a copy please email angela@www.supremesystems.co.uk and we will send it to you.

Thanks for reading – if you need help deciphering which package would be best for your business (and it can be confusing when you first see them) or simply to discuss your migration needs, do give us a call on 0121 309 0060 ext. 2 – ask for Aidan

How to…Reduce Your IT Costs

As IT services providers ourselves we are advocates of the benefits of outsourcing. Technology is vital to the success of any business – IT can help businesses increase efficiency; improve services and ultimately their bottom line. However in the current climate we understand that businesses are under increased pressure to reduce their IT costs.

Cost cutting needs to be handled with care however. Rather than a blanket cost cutting regime, businesses need to look at ways of reducing costs without necessarily reducing operational efficiency and in turn their competitive advantage.
Radical cost-cutting may answer short-term needs but can lead to higher future costs as projects that could improve efficiencies are delayed or cancelled. For businesses, it is vital to measure hardware, software and servicing not on cost alone, but in the context of performance and quality.

Top 6 Tips for effective IT cost cutting

1. Consider IT staffing
How productive is the individual? What staffing levels are needed not just to maintain but to improve service delivery? Are your per-capita cost/performance ratios better, the same or worse than other companies in your market sector and against industry best practice?

2. Outsourcing – get the price right
Analysing outsourcing costs is even more challenging than planning internal cuts. Businesses often feel they are overpaying their IT service providers but can’t pinpoint how much or why because of the lack of pricing transparency in the contract. Costs can increase because the client wants customised services or because their IT environment is highly complex.
In such cases, we would encourage businesses to think about standardising application platforms, eliminate redundant desktops or rationalise service centres to save money.

3. Choose the right service package for your business
Sometimes businesses automatically request a premium-level service where a standard one would suffice. Discuss with your supplier what elements of your package are essential to your business and make redundant all those which are unnecessary or have little or no effect on your business. Then try to negotiate your contract costs on this basis.

4. Plan in advance
Sometimes businesses may need a job done in a rush whatever the cost. To save money, businesses should be encouraged to plan ahead. At Supreme Systems we hold regular IT Audits with our clients to try and ascertain their plans for the future and make recommendations where possible as to how we can help them achieve those goals.
Always check with your providers on the cost implications of doing work under time pressure.

5. Improve Existing Systems
Your PCs may not be running as fast as they should be but this does not necessarily mean you need to purchase new PCs. You may simply require a ram upgrade or checking to see that your systems are not infested with viruses. Compare the costs of buying a new PC (a good PC can cost anything from £300 – £600) to upgrading your RAM (a 2GB memory upgrade can cost as little as £60) that alone is a saving of between £240 and £540!

6. IT Illiterates Cost You Money!
In our experience there are two types of IT Illiterates that cost businesses money.

IT Illiterates Type 1 – Staff who happen to have some knowledge of IT but are not necessarily employed to fix IT problems. A study carried out by City &Guilds found that the majority of small businesses (59%) rely on staff with no official IT role to sort out daily computing problems. Businesses with six to 10 employees were the worst offenders, with 65% relying on non-specialised staff members to put in extra hours to fix IT issues.

More than one-third (35%) of workers have failed to get a job done on time due to lack of IT knowledge and trained support, the study found. More than half of these workers (54%), tried to solve their IT problems themselves, potentially leading to more problems.
“In many companies, IT issues are passed on to existing staff in an attempt to keep costs down,” Ken Gaines, City & Guilds’ product manager for IT user qualifications, said in a statement. “However, without proper training, novices can end up costing companies far more in terms of productivity levels.”

IT Illiterates Type 2 – The Friend of a Friend or the IT Novice. We recently received a frantic call from a business owner. Their email system had stopped functioning and they had been unable to receive emails for three days. As a manufacturing company, their email system was vital to their business as the majority of their business was from international clients. During our initial systems audit, we discovered that their exchange had been set up by a “good friend” who was well experienced in fixing IT issues – unfortunately he was currently on holiday and was unable to fix the current problems. On further investigation of the email set up we were amazed that the company’s email system has managed to survive for so long! Our belief is you get what you pay for and the MDs’ assertions that “he does our IT for a pint” spoke volumes.

The IT Novice – (theory trained with no real industry experience) is another IT Illiterate that should come with a health warning. We call them the IT Cowboys – who position themselves as experts in their field. You know the type. He excelled in the Open University IT Systems course and believes this is enough to set up his own IT support business – with no real industry experience, should you really trust this person with your systems? Nothing beats working with a real IT professional that is able to tender solutions quickly and effectively due to their experience. I know of one “IT Support Company” who uses consultants from another established IT provider to fix his clients’ IT issues because he simply does not have the skills himself to carry out a satisfactory fix (yes we are advocates of outsourcing but this is ridiculous!). This means that he is unable to respond to clients queries quickly and he also passes on the cost of recruiting outside consultants to his clients. What began as a cheap IT contract is now costing his clients far more than they imagined. Our advice? Always go for quality – experts over novices. If you can never get an instant fix to your problem and instead you get the “we will get back to you” spiel; if you are leaving messages for your support provider and they are taking their time to get back to you; if your onsite technicians are constantly changing (and they have little or no knowledge of the company they “work for”) beware you may have a novice on your hands!

Contact Supreme Systems now on 0800 001 5942 or email us at vip@www.supremesystems.co.uk to see how we can help you with your IT Support needs. With support packages starting from as little as 26p per PC per Day, cost cutting will soon be a thing of the past.

Think of DR as an insurance policy. Here’s why…

A few months back we received a frantic call from our customer, a small business owner whose business had been involved in a fire that had completely engulfed their offices. Although no one had been hurt in the fire, the business provided critical support services to the NHS, so it was essential that they were back up and running in a short time.

I remember the call from John as if it were yesterday.

“As you know Angela we have our dr site where our users can work from” he said “the only problem is the server. We have backups which is great but we will need to have a new server”

“Yes I said, we can…”

“that’s the thing” he interrupted “we can’t wait more than 48hrs, well 72hr max to have a new server in place” “We really need your help to push ahead with this, 72hrs max is all we can afford to be without the server for”

“Yes but we can…”

“I know you have to rebuild the server and put in all the software things again. Will we need to pay for the software again? I am guessing you store our licence keys so we won’t have to pay again but we need to install them again yes? Do you think we can do it all in 2 days at a push”

“We can do it in 2hrs if you want John”

“Hmm?”

“2hrs – with your DR server if you want John. Everything is there ready to go – all your apps, software, everything. Let us know where you will be working from and the guys can bring the server down and connect your users up”

In his panic our friend John had forgotten that he paid us a monthly fee to use our DR service to ensure that his team could be back up and running in a short space of time following an IT disaster. On a monthly basis we did battle John and I, over DR – he claiming that he saw no value in continuing to pay for a DR Service that he could foresee never using whilst I argued that its existence was essential to the continuity of the business, a sort of insurance policy. Common sense prevailed each time and the DR Service stayed – and thank goodness!

The next morning our client appeared on the BBC to talk about their experiences. This sentence made me smile – “it is business as usual for us. Our robust business continuity plans mean we can continue as normal – within a matter of hours in fact, providing the critical services that our clients rely on us for”

I made a mental note to say “I told you so” at the next client review…

If Disaster Strikes…what would happen to YOUR Business?

Think about it. Imagine you suffer a major system outage. You are unable to access your servers (yes all of them – it can happen!). The Sales Department is at a standstill – no one can send quotes or follow up on leads because the CRM software is on the server. Accounts are unable to send out new invoices or chase outstanding ones because…Sage is on the server. The Manufacturing Team are unable to process orders because the software that tells them what needs making…is on the server and of course no one is able to access those maddening servers! Your entire team all 50 (100, 200, 500?!) of them are having an extended coffee break on you – plus your IT company tells you that they may be able to have things back to normal in about 48hrs…

IT Disasters are a real possibility – don’t leave things to change.

A disaster recovery solution is an investment against the potential loss that may arise from an IT Disaster – and they do occur. We are offering a FREE DR Consultation in July and August. Give us a call to book yours – we have 15 of these available. Call 0800 001 5942 or send us an email to vip@www.supremesystems.co.uk

How to Avoid a Data Disaster

This Infographic looks at the main causes of data loss and provides helpful information and tips on how to ensure an effective data back-up plan for your business. For example, find out what six questions you should ask when looking for a back-up provider. Also, the graphic offers an insight into what the experts are currently saying on the issue of data loss/data back-up.

How-to-avoid-a-data-disaster-Infographic

10 Reasons Why Small Businesses Can Benefit From Microsoft Office 365

Cloud computing (dubbed as the next generation of IT) is increasingly being adopted by businesses of all sizes, Worldwide. Cloud service providers which specialise within the IT industry are doing their best to ensure that daily business activities are seamlessly integrated into their cloud solution offer, granting employees’ with access to generic applications such as e-mail. The perk is that all the data is stored online, which makes all forms of documentation accessible from any location (Just don’t forget your login details!) with offline capabilities. This seems great for anyone looking to restructure their IT departments and for small businesses in particular, who may not have steep investments for high-end hardware. Furthermore, it is wise to note that cloud computing solutions are quite negotiable in terms of adaptation. For example, if you own a small to medium sized business and wish to expand or reduce your IT resources, for whatever reason, cloud solutions can be easily adjusted to fit your requirements. In other words cloud computing will provide an overall cost effective way for small businesses interested in reconfiguring or implementing a new and effective IT infrastructure. With all this being said here are 10 reasons why small businesses can benefit from a cloud solution such as Microsoft Office 365.

1. Anytime, Anywhere Access – Web enabled access through PC’s, Mac’s and Smartphones

2. Professional Business Face – A custom domain allows you to create public-facing websites

3. Communicate and Collaborate – Keep up to date through e-mails, instant messaging and online meetings

4. Learn and Use Easily – Learn Office 365 easily and reap the benefits of sophisticated IT infrastructures usually found in large scale organisations

5. Email, Collaboration and Online Meetings – High storage capabilities accommodate up 25-gigabyte (GB) mailboxes, useful for synchronizing real time information

6. Safety and Security – Benefit from security systems endorsed by Microsoft 24/7

7. Coordinate seamlessly with Familiar Tools – Fully compatible with Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Office Professional Plus.

8. No Need For Advanced IT Knowledge – Designed for organisations without IT staff, meaning quick engagement of services

9. 99.9 % Availability and a Money-Back Guarantee

10. Flexibility – Pay as you go price plans allow for cost effective investments

For more information click Cloud Solution or contact Supreme Systems directly on 0800 001 5942 for more advice.

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A typical day of a Technical Liaison Manager at Supreme Systems, An IT Company based in Birmingham

I don’t really have a typical day, as my role at Supreme gets me involved in a vast array of technologies, all over the country, but an average day is typically like the following:

9:00. First job of the day, while the morning kettle is boiling, is to check my e-mail. IT Support tickets logged overnight will send me an e-mail automatically, and of course I have to check through my standard e-mail in case a customer has informed me directly about an issue. Meanwhile, the first line engineers will be checking through their e-mail as well, looking at the automatically generated logs from the servers we support, looking for any issues and flagging them up for attention. So if a backup fails for example, this is when we will pick it up. Assuming that there is nothing that requires our urgent attention, the next thing the technical team does is to go through any open support tickets together, and prioritize any outstanding work. At this point I know roughly the work I’m going to be doing that day, and I can plan around it.

10:00. It’s more likely than not that I’ll have some sort of scheduled meeting that day, and I prefer to do this in the morning when I can, in case I get tied up in technical work later in the day. This can be anything that requires a representative of the technical team to talk to an existing or prospective customer. Often I’ll attend sales meetings, to make sure anything discussed is correct from a technical side. Considering how many people don’t like meetings, I have to admit I enjoy these. I rarely lead the meetings, but I’m often called upon to explain various technologies, and the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of doing things. I’m a sociable person who loves talking about technology, so that suits me just fine.

12:00. Lunchtime. Unless there is something causing severe problems for a customer, in which case we’ll likely be working right through. Fortunately, the non-technical staff here our kind enough to go out and fetch us some nutrition (Nothing that can mess up a keyboard!) if we’re working right through. I learnt early in IT support you shouldn’t skip lunch entirely. You need your brain, and you don’t think as well if you’re hungry.

13:00. If it’s a good day, then we should have had any problems reported today sorted out by now, and our decks are clear. Much as I’d love to put my feet up and bask in the glory of an empty help-desk queue, we can’t get away with that. I.T. moves fast, and our customers are always looking for something new. So often this time is used to carry out research on the part of customers, such as choosing a good CRM system, or planning ways of providing extra features that have been requested. Failing that, we’re training. We bank on our engineers being skilled, so learning has to be a continuous process.
If it’s a less good day, on the other hand, then we’ll be working on technical problems, either on going ones or newly reported that afternoon. We want our customers systems to give us as little trouble as possible, so we try to make sure the fixes we make are solid, and problems will not re-occur. But despite that, sometimes we’ll have a run of issues. So everyone pitches in, and if you have to stay late…Well, I knew that when I got into I.T. My wife knew it was coming when she married me!

17:00. Normally this is when I aim to finish. But I could be on a customer site in another city, so it doesn’t bear much relation as to when I get home. And often there’ll be some “homework”. A server reset to do outside of hours, or a user who isn’t available till late this whole week. These tend to be “courtesy” jobs however, occasional work for the convenience of our customers. We’ve set ourselves up to work wherever we have an internet connection, which feels like a mixed blessing sometimes!

I hope this gave you an insight as to how I work – don’t forget if you need any on-going IT support to call the team on 0800 001 5942 or simply email vip@www.supremesystems.co.uk

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