Outsourcing Tech Support – Good For Them, Bad For You

There has been some controversy regarding the outsourcing of IT technical support services.  It is an argument that has been around for years and will remain so as long as computers exist.

For those who are not familiar with the outsourcing of IT support I can sum it up very quickly in one sentence.  Instead of having an IT person on staff you hire an outside company to handle your IT requirements for you.  On the surface it would appear that outsourcing makes perfect sense.  The cold hard reality of it there are many reasons not to outsource IT services.

On a spreadsheet the initial numbers are very misleading in the respect that the company does not have to hire someone for IT support and as such will not have to pay benefits.  Even if an in-house tech costs $150,000 a year in salary it appears to be a savings if that does not have to be paid.  As such a lot of companies are shutting down their IT departments and are moving to outsourcing or not having an IT department at all.

But what is not put into the figures is the true cost for an outside tech to support the company.  Let’s say you have an issue with an employee’s desktop PC, you call the outsource tech support company or managed service provider (“MSP”) and place your complaint.  Now you have to wait for someone to call you back.  That can be right away or might be several hours later.

With the later, the employee’s system is sitting idle and you are paying the employee for not working.  The tech now returns your call and is able to resolve the problem say in five minutes.  Most MSP’s bill by the quarter hour.  So for 5 minutes of work you get charged 15 minutes.  I have seen some instances where a MSP will charge the full hour just for 5 minutes of work.

Let’s put some numbers to that.  The average rate for tech support by me is $250 an hour billed by the 15 minutes.  The employee in question gets paid $22 an hour.  A rule of thumb for benefits is half of the salary rate is what the benefits cost so that is an extra $11 and hour to the employee.  That employee’s PC is down for 3 hours before a tech calls.  It takes the tech only 5 minutes to rectify the problem.  Let’s do the math:

Let’s say that an employee has a real bad paper jam in a copier.  Generally that falls under the realm of the IT department, but if the IT functions are outsourced the employee calls the MSP about the problem.  They in turn tell the employee to call the copier company unless they do that.  And like before they charge for telling you to call or to make the call for you.

Now what if the problem requires that they send someone on site?  You usually get charged travel time as well.  When you do get charged for travel time is it for the tech to come from around the block or the other side of the county?  Experience has shown it is always from across the county, several hours away even though they are just down the street.  And let’s say that the tech they send is not familiar with the particular issue and needs to research the issue.  You can and do get charged for that as well.  Let’s put some numbers on that based on a real event.

A company of 80 end users was hit with a nasty virus that wiped out the user login database known as Active Directory in the primary server or domain controller.  The problem was escalated with the affect hitting other domain controllers in the network through replication.  This had the effect of locking out all of the end users from their computers so no one could work.  They had to call in the MSP.

The average salary for the staff we will say is $60 an hour which includes the senior execs.  Again 50% of the salary rate goes to benefits.  The server went down at 10AM and the outside tech was called.  He did not respond until 5PM.  The tech spent 9 hours researching the problem and making a diagnosis before repairs could made.  An additional 3 hours to do the actual repair.  The rate was $250/hr. and they tacked on 2 hours traveling time at $250/hr.  Quitting time for the company is 5PM, which means the staff was idle for 7hrs.  And the tech that responded was not familiar with the company’s network environment.

Let’s look at it:

figure 2

What if it took the tech say a day or more to arrive?  How much money was lost by paying people to stand around?

Now this was an extreme but realistic example. If you add that $54K to the rest of the calls to the MSP for the year and you could be shocked.

Now in this example the client had to wait seven hours before someone showed up.  What level of priority was given to this client?  Obviously it was not high up on the MSP’s list of priorities.  The client can be told that they have top priority but in reality the MSP could have the client on the bottom of the pile.

How much can this add up to?  With my previous company I reduced outsourcing of tech calls which meant that while I was there I handled about 19.2K hours of service calls.  Multiply that by the MSP rate of $250 an hour you will find that was a savings of $4.8 million.  Who’s laughing now?

Most companies do not have a tech savvy person on staff and the MSP‘s know this all too well.  What is to say that they bill for services that were not done or that were not necessary?  It happens and they can get away with it.

Here is an example, an MSP had a sales meeting with a client.  As part of the meeting they brought along one of the field techs to the meeting which was not requested by the client.  The MSP billed the client not only for the tech to be there at their hourly rate, but three hours travel time for the tech as well as lunch for him.

Labor is not the only costs that the MSP firm can embellish or control.  A lot of times they state that they can and will supply all the hardware at the best pricing available.  A savvy company would know that they can get better pricing for the same items by going elsewhere like PC Mall, Tiger Direct, New Egg and factory direct like with HP or Dell.

As an example an MSP wanted to sell Dell computers to a client.  The client already had an account with Dell but was open to price comparison to see if they could get a better price.  When the MSP provided their quote, the client went to Dell and built out the same computer for 40% less and is able to get the computer faster since it was shipped directly to them.  Obviously the MSP did not get the sale.

Many times the MSP will try and is often successful in selling hardware, software and services that are not needed.  They upsell whenever they can.  After all it is in their best interest not the clients.

As an example there is a publicly traded company not far from me.  Their network environment was simple and did not require virtualization.  A MSP made it to one of the senior executives and sold them on the idea of going with virtualization.  Not only that they convinced the executive to eliminate the in-house tech staff so they could run the show.  In under a year the MSP cost the company over $1 million and the network has more bugs in it than you can imagine which of course equates to more billable service calls.

Another example a MSP wanted to sell a client all new desktop computers.  The ones that they had were one to two years old but the MSP tried to convince them that their machines were outdated and were failing.  They were looking at trying to sell 120 new systems at once which would have given them a $200,000 sale.

In once aspect it did make sense to replace all of the computers at once to keep them all the same.  This way you can create what is known as one image of a computer with all the software on it and simply clone that to many others.  This makes deploying and replacing computers easy.  At the same time it would be prudent to have a few others of the same types on hand should you get a new employee or a system should fail.  The image would be very useful here.  But it is not a cost effective method by a long shot.

A lot of times the MSP will insist and put it into their service agreement that they get an exclusive to service your systems.  In an event like what I went into earlier where it took the tech 7 hours to respond if the company had access to another MSP then they might not have been down that length of time.  Unfortunately that company was in an exclusive agreement with the original MSP.

Some MSP’s feel that they own the clients network and the systems attached.  The client has no idea what is going on and as such the MSP runs the show.  They can and sometimes do withhold from the client a lot of vital information that the client has a right to.

As an example with the administration passwords.  These are the master top level passwords to the systems that the client has.  Being a tech myself I can say that it can be a bad thing to give these to the client.  A lot of times it has been seen that an executive who has these passwords logs into a system, like a server just to snoop around.  They feel that because they are an executive like a CFO, magically gives them the knowledge to access the server and generally will click on the wrong thing and cause all kinds of havoc.  In some cases the executive or someone else with no tech skills reads an article in a magazine how to do things and invariably tries what they read and messes things up as well.  I have seen this on several occasions.

But the client owns the systems and has a right to the passwords.  The MSP can come up with some excuse in not giving them to the client.  If the client has them they can lock out the MSP from accessing the network.  This is a good practice and should be set in place to prevent unauthorized access.  This way if the tech firm needs access then the client can grant it on an as needed basis.  Plus the client will have the freedom to have someone else look at the systems if they desire.

Granted most of the time the client has no clue as to what is going on.  This is where the MSP needs to but does not educate the client to the nitty-gritty details.  But they often do not do so just to keep the client in the dark.

With your own IT staff they know the systems inside and out in know how everything works better than an outside company can.  In many cases it is the in-house tech staff that built the network from the ground up.  This gives them the advantage over an outside company for they can respond to emergencies a lot faster.  Plus the in-house staff would have extensive documentation on the network which an outsourced company would not have nor provide.  True an outside company can learn your network but there is a learning curve involved which costs money as pointed out earlier.

Another bit of familiarity comes not from the hardware but from the end-users as well.  With an in-house tech they would know how to interact with the rest of the staff.  Plus a level of trust is built up between everyone something that an MSP could not hope to achieve.  Sometimes an outside tech may have rubbed someone the wrong way and the company can actually prevent the tech from servicing them.  And in with an MSP you may not get the same tech in twice.

A major factor to consider is security. Who are these people?  They have no vested interested in the clients company, just their own.  Who is to say that an outside tech does not walk off with crucial data on a flash drive or external hard drive?  The client will never know.  What is the outside tech doing with that data, sharing it with another client?  What if the tech leaves the hard drive unattended in a car and that gets broken into and the external drive is stolen.  Corporate espionage is a very real threat.  An in-house tech would treat your data with more care and security than an outsider will.  Granted even internal staff can steal data, but the chances are lower than an outsider.

Are you sure your MSP is not divulging your secrets?
Are you sure your MSP is not divulging your secrets?

A very good example is there is a company that had an outsourced tech there.  An argument ensued between him and one of the staff.  The tech blabbed his mouth off about the clients operation to one of his other clients who in turn shared that information with one of their clients.  Where is the level of trust and security there?  How often do things like this happen?

With an MSP you the client have no control over what goes on in your network.  Keeping your network environment in operation at all times should not be left to outsiders for they do what they want, when they want and charge you for everything possible.  Even with a network of 20 users would pay to have someone on staff to maintain your network for you, even if it means they have to do other jobs to justify them being there.

Outsource tech companies can and do have some usefulness.  They see changes in technology faster than you can and are on top of these changes.  They also can pull from a larger resource of knowledge to get a job done because you are not their only client.  Someone else may have had a similar problem and that experience can be beneficial.  So in some aspects it pays to have an MSP or two as standby help.  But not as your primary tech support.

Ultimately the decision is yours.  But the prudent thing is not to outsource your tech support.  Of course the MSP’s would highly disagree with what is presented here, after all like I said earlier they are out for their best interest not yours.

Free Computer (and other) Education

Years ago if you wanted to know how to program a computer or do just about anything on one you needed to obtain an advanced degree in math, electronics, engineering and what have you.  That ran you into tens of thousands of dollars (hundreds of thousands by today’s standards).Startup Stock Photos

In some aspects that is still very true today especially if you want to design the actual chips, circuit boards or develop a new computer language.  But a lot has changed over the years where you can obtain computer education for little to no cost.

As an example, you want to learn a programming language, say JAVA.  JAVA seems to be the language of preference in most computer science classes.  You could attend a formal class at a college to learn the basics of JAVA but that can cost you from $1,000 to $3,000 or more.  OK, if you are going for a degree you will have no choice but go that route.

But let’s say you are not degree bound or just want to or need to learn JAVA or are in a degree program and need extra help.  There are plenty of free tutorials on the internet that do a great job of teaching JAVA.  Even Oracle, the owner of JAVA (formally Sun Computers owned it until it was bought by Oracle) has free tutorials on JAVA.  You can borrow books from your library as well.  Plus on YouTube you can find tutorials on JAVA as well with other sites.

As an example The New Boston,  http://www.thenewboston.org, has loads of free tutorials on various subjects including JAVA.   With some work on your part you will learn the language for free.

JAVA is not the only computer language you can learn for free.  COBOL, ASSEMBLER, FORTRAN, C+, and many other languages can be learned at little to no cost that way as well.

Cisco is just one thing that you can learn for free
Cisco is just one thing that you can learn for free

Let’s look at CISCO.  Like JAVA there are plenty of sources on the internet where you can get free tutorials.  To practice CISCO you could go to eBay and buy some used routers and switches which can cost from a few hundred to over a thousand or with a little digging you can get CISCO’s PacketTracer which simulates the hardware only it is free.  Since it is a computer simulator and draws no power, your wallet will love the fact there is no increase in your electric bill nor is there any additional hardware to buy.

In some areas you will need to buy the software to use to learn on but that is the fraction of the cost for a college degree.  A lot of times you can get software to learn on fairly inexpensively on eBay.  Granted a lot of it is not the latest but there is nothing wrong with it to learn on while saving money.

As an example you want to learn Visual Basic Dot Net, then you need Visual Studio to learn on.  I have seen Visual Studio for sale on PC Mall for over $4,000.  But on eBay and I’ve seen it for under $100.

By the way, if programming is what you seek then you will find that most compilers are available for free.

Computer programming is not the only thing you can learn this way.  CISCO, HTML, CSS, Photoshop, FileMaker Pro, and many other subjects

Astronomy, physics, economics and more can be learned for free
Astronomy, physics, economics and more can be learned for free

like Finance Theory, Psychology, Calculus, Economics, Astronomy and much more all can be learned for free.  You just need to search them out.

Some universities are offering free college level courses as well on the internet known as “MOOCs” or Massive Open Online Courses.  M.I.T. and

M.I.T. is just one ivy league university offering free classes
M.I.T. is just one ivy league university offering free classes

Berkley are just two several of the universities doing this.  You can get some great education again for free.  But not every course the university gives is offered for free and sometimes the course is pretty sketchy, that is they simply did not do good job preparing it and leave you hanging.  The courses might be a few years dated as to what the current curriculum is, but the knowledge is still sound.

For the most part you will not get any credit for taking those courses plus you might not be able to interact with the professors.  Some colleges like MIT will offer you a certificate of completion for a nominal fee.  Some of colleges have taken it a step further and will give you college credit for a fee but you need to meet other requirements first.  In any case you can take college level courses for free.

What universities you ask?  M.I.T., Berkley, Stanford, Duke, Harvard (yes that Harvard), UCLA, Yale for starters.

Let me get you started with some links to some free education:

800 Free Online Courses From Top Universities -http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses
MOOCs: Top 10 Sites For Free Education With Elite Universities: http://bit.ly/KtnCtd
MOOC List –        https://www.mooc-list.com/

MIT Open Courseware – http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
Learning the Java Language by Oracle – http://docs.oracle.com/javase/tutorial/java/TOC.html
The New Boston – Bucky Roberts had produced numerous computer related courses plus a few others as well.  He does a great job.  Check him out – http://thenewboston.org
Alison – they have several courses ranging from computers to Risk Management to Math and much more – https://alison.com/
COBOL programming – http://www.csis.ul.ie/cobol/course/Default.htm
Harvard Online courses – these are the free ones, they do have online courses for credit but they will charge you for those  – http://online-learning.harvard.edu/courses?sort_by=date_added&cost[]=free
University of California Berkeley on iTunes has some free courses
University of Irvine has a few courses – http://ocw.uci.edu/
UMass Boston has a nice selection – http://ocw.umb.edu/index.html
Carnegie Mellon University also has a nice selection – http://oli.cmu.edu/learn-with-oli/see-our-free-open-courses/
Coursera as a great selection of courses from places like Penn University, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, Stanford, UC SanDiego, Duke University and more.  Some of the courses do incur a fee.  It pays to check them out at – https://www.coursera.org/
Purdue University has a free on-line writing lab – http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/
Like Coursera, edX has courses from various universities – http://www.edx.org
Udacity – Free Interactive College Classes – http://www.udacity.com/
Khanacademy has numerous courses – https://www.khanacademy.org/
PYTHON  – https://docs.python.org/2/tutorial/

Lynda.com offers free education with a library card
Lynda.com offers free education with a library card

There is another resource that I found while not free but is very cost effective, Lynda.com.  Here are some great tutorials available at a very low price.  All you need to do is sign up for monthly access and you can access all of the tutorials that they have for the one price.  Some public libraries may grant you free access to that site just by being a patron so you can take an unlimited amount of courses from Lynda.com for free.  So it pays to check with your local library.

So with a little effort on your part you can find some great sources for free or nearly free education in computers well as many other subjects.

Paperless Office for Disaster Recovery

What does hurricanes Andrew in 1992, Charlie and Frances in 2004, Katrina and Wilma and Ivan and Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008, Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 have in common?  And what about the EF-5 tornado in Joplin, Mo. in 2011?  And let’s not forget the wild fires in California?  What do all of these have in common?

In each and every single one of them countless businesses were either washed, blown away or burned down forever.  Many of the businesses might have recovered if they had a proper Disaster Recovery Plan in place.  Granted in 1999 – 2005 Disaster Recovery Plans (or DRP) might have been nothing more but a pipe dream or obscure term for most while in later years some businesses started to adopt them.  Those that did stood a better chance of recovering.

A paperless office solution not only can reduce the amount of paper that you print, but can be an integral part of your DRP.  With the advent and new changes in technology part of any DRP should include some form of hosted paperless office.

Imagine losing your mission critical documents
Imagine losing your mission critical documents

In the event of a disaster where your building is inaccessible, damaged or destroyed, all of your paper documents will become useless.  As you can imagine that alone can put you out of business.  By making your printouts as electronic documents and placing them onto a secure hosted location on the internet using a paperless office solution can help bring your business back from a disaster quickly.  All you need to do is access your electronic documents any time, any place with an internet connection.

Paperless offices can handle most any type of electronic document like PDF’s, spreadsheets, word processing documents, AutoCad drawings, photographs and graphics and more.  Adding physical paper to the paperless office is as simple as scanning them into the solution and directing them into the appropriate categories.  Most copiers today have scanning capabilities built into them already that allow you to scan to a location on a server or PC as a .PDF, .JPG or .TIFF.  And many will also OCR the PDF’s for you as well.  From there all you need to do is migrate them into your paperless office.

Anything on paper can be moved into a paperless office
Anything on paper can be moved into a paperless office

By being very diligent in creating and storing your documents electronically, especially mission critical ones the destruction of your building will become more of an inconvenience than anything else.  OK, granted it would be a major headache and inconvenience but at least you potentially would not be out of business and have a greater chance of recovery.

What types of documents could you consider as mission critical that you need for recovery in the event of a disaster?

  • Copies of leases
  • Insurance papers
  • Bank and credit statements
  • Receipts and packing slips from vendors
  • Invoices
  • Physical inventories sheets
  • Deposit slip receipts
  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Job applications
  • Employee records
  • In essence, anything on paper

With a hosted paperless office solution the provider can customize the paperless solution to fit your business structure including showing you how to limit who can access what documents.  As an example you certainly would not want a routine clerk having access to payroll information so various levels of security can be set up.  You would need to check with the solution provider about setting this up.

Who can benefit from setting up a paperless office solution?  Everyone.  There is no business to small or too large that cannot benefit from some form of paperless office.  Especially for disaster recovery.  And you do not need to go insane and make everything paperless.  Just start with the most critical documents and move onto others.

As a homeowner or renter you too can benefit from this as well using the same scanning technology only on a smaller scale.  From here the home owner or renter can scan all of their documents and save them into a hosted paperless office just like any business in the event their home is destroyed.

Granted a paperless office solution will not eliminate all of your paper but with proper use a paperless office solution can reduce your paper flows and it can help save your business in the event of a disaster.  You just may even qualify for an insurance break for having a DRP and especially one with a hosted paperless office solution.  But check with your broker.

Paperless Office Is For Everyone

Ever since the first bit of data that was spit out by a computer, the idea of eliminating paper in the office was born but never really took hold.  The “paperless office” became a dream that has been hard to adopt even by the largest companies.  Sp far it has been called “paperless office”, “e-filecabinet”, “document management” and a few others.

The term ‘paperless office’ conjures images of an office environment that runs totally without any paper what so ever anywhere.  Where in some industries this can be obtainable but for most companies it is really out of reach.  The term ‘reduced paper office’ is a more realistic approach for just about any company regardless of what industry it is in and no matter how large or small the company is.  Even home owners can utilize and reap the benefits of a reduced paper office as well.

Imagine the floor space reclaimed by not having file cabinets
Imagine the floor space reclaimed by not having file cabinets

What really hinders the making of a true paperless office is that there are

certain regulatory forms that must be in paper.  Not all vendors are paperless and will still send out paper invoices, statements and packing slips.  A lot of legal documents must be in hard copy as well as well as many utility bills.  So we can quickly see that a true paperless office is a difficult task to obtain.  So we have to settle for a reduced paper office instead.  But for discussion sake we will refer to the term of paperless office.

Some of the advantages of having a paperless office are:

  • Reduce the need for file cabinets and reclaim useable floor space or even reduce the size of your physical location thereby saving on rent and utilities. A smaller place generally requires less to heat and cool.
  • Save on printing costs by not needing cases of paper, a stock pile of toner, and buying new printers every few years. By reducing the need for having cases of paper and all those toner cartridges you again reclaim storage space and never have to worry about running out.
  • Considering how paper burns pretty easily, by not having paper in the building can increase the chance of reducing the risk of fire and could make a fire easier to extinguish.
  • Document collaboration is a snap by having team members able to access the documents instantly. Even across the globe.
  • Security can be increased by limiting who can gain access to certain documents by the click of a mouse.
  • No more lost documents which is a real big advantage since they will always be available. No more of the ‘who’s got such-and-such document’ scenario which is so popular in many offices.
  • Disaster recovery can be greatly enhanced especially if a hosted solution is in place. Mission critical documents can be safely stored and retrieved at any time in the event of a disaster as long as you have an internet connection.

But a paperless office is not fully a bed of roses for there are some disadvantages as well, but a lot of these are easy enough to overcome:

  • Security is possibly the most important aspect. You need to be very diligent on who has access to the documents and how secure your network infrastructure is.
  • Like file cabinets, storage can be an issue. The hard drive of a computer
    A NAS or SAN can be used to store your e-documents
    A NAS or SAN can be used to store your e-documents

    can hold just so much data.  Here you might think of using a Network Area Storage (NAS) or Storage Area Network (SAN) device where you can add drives as needed to increase the capacity or look at a hosted solution to hold the images.  Thankfully hard drives are fairly cheap and take up very little physical room so adding storage to a NAS is really a non-issue.

  • If your building is destroyed and your paperless office solution is in your building then you are in as bad a shape as you would be with paper. Here a hosted solution would be the best course of action.  Of course you need to review their service level agreement before taking them on to ensure uptime and accessibility.
  • Not all paperless software solutions are alike. They each have their own little quirks and learning curves.  And they all come in a variety of prices from under $200 to several thousand for custom made ones.  Unless you are comfortable with and know databases then you can make your own solution which is not that hard to do.
  • There are various documents that due to regulatory constraints must be in physical paper form, but those are dwindling down. Here you will need to consult with your lawyers and accountants to see what physical documents you need to keep.
  • End users love paper and retraining will be needed to reduce the amount of paper that they do indeed print. Granted there are times paper will need to be used but with proper training this can be greatly reduced.

Not that long ago only the largest companies could afford having a paperless office.  But as technologies improved and computers and scanners have gotten cheaper even the smallest businesses can take advantage of having a paperless office.

You already create paperless documents and the rest can be scanned into a server
You already create paperless documents and the rest can be scanned into a server

Let’s start with a simple office.  All the documents that you create on your computer are already in the paperless format as well as digital photos and email attachments which are stored in a folder on your computer or server.  All that is needed is to migrate the documents into your paperless office.  As far as paper documents you need a scanner that can create .pdf, .tiff or .jpg images.  Most copiers and scanners today have that capability with the software that is bundled with the machines plus the software will run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on a PDF document to make it searchable.  These documents then can be migrated into your paperless office.

The fax machine is not dead, at least not yet and many companies still use them.  By connecting the fax line to a computer or server with a modem installed, add the appropriate software like eFax® and now all of your incoming and outgoing faxes will be paperless.  These can also be incorporated into your paperless office after ‘e-printing’ them.

You will need to research the various fax software package for some like eFax® limit how many free faxes you can make and require you to have a monthly or annual subscription.  Plus if you have several computers that you are going to fax from then multiple licenses are going to be required along with the subscription fees.  Best way around this is by setting up a simple print server that handles all of the faxing.

A lot of copies can scan and act like fax machines
A lot of copies can scan and act like fax machines

A lot of office copiers will have electronic faxing built into them so it might pay to discuss that with your copier supply company.

Of course you need someplace to store the images or e-documents like on a computer, server, NAS or hosted storage.  Most importantly you need the paperless office software and selecting one can be a daunting task since there are so many on the market like PaperPort Professional® and others.

If you decide make a paperless office it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a very high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.

Of course there are other advantages to having one built and hosted for you.  Like uptime in the event that a disaster destroys your building, the host takes care of hardware and software upgrades, the host also backs up the data to help prevent loss on their end.

If you are knowledgeable in databases then you could conceivably make your own version of a paperless office.  But you would be responsible for all of the maintenance, upgrades and backups.

If you are up to the task of building your own paperless office you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server,

FileMakerPro is one such DBMS that you can use for a paperless office
FileMakerPro is one such DBMS that you can use for a paperless office

MySQL®, FileMaker Pro®, MS Access®, Oracle® or SAP®.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access® and FileMaker Pro® standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle® and SAP®.

Next you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC unless the person who does the database work knows html, especially if you want web access to it.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.   FileMaker Pro® and MS Access® plus a few others will allow you to create a front end that the user sees.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database and the particular DBMS first plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro® that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your

Most any scanner can be used with your paperless office
Most any scanner can be used with your paperless office

documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.

And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

For a few hundred dollars any small business or home owner can have a paperless office solution in place.  Of course you can still spend thousands for a very robust system that has unlimited storage.  Paperless Office technology has been dramatically improved since the early days of computing to a more efficient and user friendly tool.  Now anyone can implement one in their environment.

Redundant Internet Connections For Disaster Recovery

A lot of businesses today rely on the internet for commerce in one form or another.  Regardless it is email, on-line applications, research or ordering the internet is the life blood for many companies.  Losing that connectivity can potentially cost millions of dollars depending on the type of business.

Loss of internet connectivity can be more than a headache
Loss of internet connectivity can be more than a headach

Most companies will have only one internet connection, hence a single point of failure.  In order to prevent that it is wise to have a second internet connection from a different Internet Service Provider (“ISP”).

What a lot of people do not realize is even if you have a second ISP, the internet connection could potentially be supplied from the same Central Office (“CO”).  If the CO has problems then you could lose both connections.

Part of this is because most places use good old fashioned copper wires from the pole to the building to supply connectivity.  Regardless of what ISP you select, the very last mile, that is from the CO to your building runs along lines owned by Verizon.  And what now have is the single point of failure once again.

That is why when you select a secondary ISP, it pays to find out where their CO is located.

Some places will have cable connectivity like CableVision here on Long Island.  They use a totally different CO and they own the copper from along the whole stretch thereby taking Verizon out of the loop for one connection.

Other places could even have a fiberoptic connection which eliminates copper altogether and like the cable will originate from a different CO.  The fiber could also be from another provider which again takes Verizon out of the loop.

Typical fiber optic cable
Typical fiber optic cable

With the way that fiber has come down in costs and the speeds far exceed what can be obtained on copper, it pays to look into having fiber as your primary connection and copper as your secondary connection.  This way if one should fail, you will still have the other to work from.

Generally how this is accomplished is that both connections are brought into the same room.  From there they are connected to the same firewall which is configured to accept both.  Most firewalls today will have a failover built into them so if your primary line goes down the secondary takes over instantly and seamlessly.  No one would ever know.  From the firewall the connection is now connected to the network where everyone works.

Using two ISPs for redundancy
Using two ISPs for redundancy

A lot of times the firewall will also do what is called ‘load balancing.’  That is split the traffic among both connections so one does not have a bottle neck.

Some companies will even go as far as having a third connection should they lose the first two.  This can also be copper of fiber from another provider.  Some places will use a broadband connection similar to cell phones using a device where 3G or 4G modems are connected to.  This is good in case a tree or accident takes down a pole outside.  Problem with that is the costs can be very high and you would not get the same amount throughput as you would with copper or fiber.  And like cell phones you might not get good reception.

A device that I used is known as CradlePoint.  It takes three broadband modems connected to it by USB cables then to the firewall.  In testing I pulled both the primary and secondary internet connections and just left the CradlePoint connected.  No one in the office of 55 ever knew the difference.

CradlePoint router
CradlePoint router

A major issue does arise with multiple internet connections and that is if you have your own email server like Exchange, should your primary internet connection fails then you could risk the possibility of not having email at all.  Here is where you would need to discuss with your internet providers to establish what is known as BGP to ensure that your email will work regardless of what internet connection is working.

In summary, if your business relies on the internet then you should truly consider having a second connection through a second ISP.  It makes good business sense.

Make Your Own Paperless Office?

I have been asked this question several times:

“Can I make my own paperless office solution instead of buying one?”

I can see why this question is asked.  If you make one it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.  Fairly understandable reasons for building one that cannot be argued with.

Well the answer to the question is a surprising ‘Yes’ you can make your own paperless office solution.

First you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server, MySQL, FileMaker Pro, MS Access, Oracle or SAP.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access and FileMaker Pro standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle and SAP.

Next unless you are up to the task you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC if you want to use a web browser unless the person who does the database work knows html.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.  Plus depending on the type of paperless office you are planning on building, knowing ASP, JAVA, XML and some other languages may prove useful.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database in general and the particular DBMS first.  Plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well, plus the other languages I spoke about but that can be optional as most DBMS’s can create a front end.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering the databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your paper documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.  These become .pdf, .tiff or .jpg files which you can scan into a directory on your computer then where you can now move them into the paperless office solution.

With the pdf files, you can OCR them, that is run an Optical Character Recognition utility on them to make them searchable.

Of course when you create the documents in the first place, as in Word, Excel or any number of programs, they are already in an electronic format so it is a very simple matter to move them into the paperless office.

And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

But if time is one thing that you are in short supply on, then you might want to look at a cloud provider that can build and host one for you.  There are plenty of advantages of having a hosted paperless office over having one that you build.

First all upgrades and software licensing is the responsibility of the provider as well as backing up the data.  A hosted paperless office is or at least should be available to you via an internet connecting regardless of where you are especially in the event of a major disaster.

If you elect to build your own paperless office, you bear the responsibility of software upgrades, upgrades to the solution, license fees if any, and tech support.  Plus if you build your own most likely you will host it internally.  If so then if your building is destroyed or damaged you just might not be able to gain access to the data.  But you can save money on monthly and setup fees plus you remain in total control over your data.

So can you build your own paperless office? Yes.  Do you want to?  Well that depends on you and your situation.  You just might decide that instead of adding another potential headache to your plate then you just might be better off to go with a hosted solution instead.

The Cost Of Printing

Have ever considered how much it costs to click on print?  A few pennies, right?  Who cares?

Now what if I show you that, by using actual data that your printing costs can be over $2,000 a year per printer.  Now that is something to think about.

To begin with we are going to use actual data taken from a company that has several printers in one office.  I selected an employee that is doing a substantial amount of printing which is not uncommon in several offices.

Let’s start with one of their printers, a HP LaserJet 1320.  The original price of the printer needs to be factored into our figures.  The printer was purchased directly from HP and the average service life is 5 years.  The price of the printer was $399 with shipping at $25 plus tax of $37.10 brings the cost of the printer to $461.10.  Using the 5 lifespan year rule the printer costs $92.22 a year.

Some people will argue that the cost of the printer should not include the shipping and tax.  But these are still costs that come out of the checking account and figure into the final bottom end of the costs.  So they really need to be factored in as well.

And since we know what model printer, we now know that it takes the 49A toner cartridge.  I wanted new HP toner and not a rebuilt unit or non-HP cartridge.  By going on line I saw that Staples, WB Mason and Quill sell the cartridge for $93.99 and add tax of $8.22 and the toner costs $102.21.  These companies offer free shipping so we are not going to factor that in.  The advertised print yield for the 49A cartridge is 2,500 pages.  That breaks down to .04 a print. A few words on toner yields, the industry norm for printing is that a typical page is covered with only 5% ink.  If you look at a typical page and visually compress the text all into one corner with no paper showing through you would cover about 5% of the page.  What can throw this off is if you print a lot of graphics or pictures, lots of heavy bold or black text, or maybe just a few lines of text per paper.  But it is safe to say that most pages are covered only 5% and HP rates the 49A cartridge for 2,500 pages at that 5%.

For paper I chose the white multipurpose paper that most companies would normally buy.  Here I went with Staples and it is advertised at $49.99 for a case.  Each case holds 5,000 sheets of paper.  Add sales tax of $4.37 and the case now costs $54.36.  From here each sheet of paper costs just a hair above $0.01, but we can safely say a penny.

Now we see that each time we click print that one pages costs $.05 each.

Where does that mean after a year?

Taking the same company and that one employee it was found that they print an average of 4,300 pages a month.  Multiply that by $0.05 and we see it costs $218.79 a month which is $2,625.51 a year.  Add in the annual cost of the printer of $92.22 and we see that printing from that one person costs us $2,717.73.

Cartridge Price                               $  93.99
Sales Tax                                         8.22
     Net                                        102.21

Divide by the yield                            2,500

Price of toner per print                                    0.04

Price for a case of paper                        49.99
Sales Tax                                         4.37
     Net paper                                   54.36

Divide by sheets in a case                    5,000

Cost per sheet                                               0.01  Cost per print                                               0.05

Multiplied by prints per month                4,300

Cost of printing per month                                 218.79
Cost of printing per year                                2,625.51

Price for printer                                399.00
Shipping from fact                                25.00
Sales Tax                                         37.10
     Net printer price                           461.10

Divide by the service life (years)                 5

Annual cost for the printer                                 92.22

Total printing costs for one year                     $  2,717.73

Just for the heck of it let’s say you have 12 employees printing that volume and you see that your costs for printing are $36,612.77 a year.  Like I asked before, who cares…now?

Even if your printing is a more reasonable 3,300 pages a month you are still looking at $2,107.15 per printer per year.

And let us not forget this is for black and white.  Color is a lot higher.

These figures will be different with each different type of printer, where it was purchased, the price paid, the brand name toner vs. remanufactured or third party, the price of paper and how many prints that you actually do.  But at the end of the day printing is not cheap and with today’s economy it pays to keep a close eye on how many pages are printed.  So in reality your printing costs would be different but it is something to keep a close eye on.

Many copy machines today have network printing capabilities in them so users can send their print jobs to those machines instead.  With many contracts you get a set amount of free prints/copies per month as part of the contract.  This can be a substantial savings in toner costs.

But the down side is if you have a lot of people printing to these machines you can wind up with people waiting for their print job to come out.  And print jobs can get messed up even when they setup print separator pages which is money tossed out the window.  Plus if you go over the allotment of print jobs, the copier company could charge you as much as .10 or more per print over the allotment.

In the long run considering that staff has to get up from their desk, walk to the copier, wait for their print jobs then walk back is salary lost that could be put to productivity.  Add this to the monthly printer charges, supplies charges, over usage charges and you really see that there is not great of a savings after all.

You can go with one of those print management companies.  Here for a monthly fee they supply all the toner you could want.  But they give you an allotment of how many prints you can do and like with the copier companies, any overage you can get hit very hard with excess print charges.  Plus you are getting their brand of toner and not brand name.

We tried that in our office and it turned out to be cheaper to stick with buying the brand name toner cartridges from Quill, Staples and WB Mason.  The toner that the print management company sold was not as good either and when one of their cartridges leaked all over the inside of a new $800 printer they did not come forward and repair the machine.

Another thing that many people don’t think about is the waste of paper when printing.  How many times is the garbage can filled with paper from a printer?  How much money is being tossed out?

With the focus on going ‘Green’ today, printing on paper can be considered a waste of natural resources.

And let us not forget one thing that was not brought into our figures, the cost of electricity to run the printer in the first place.

Another method that is very cost effective and within reach of every company is to go paperless printing and go with a paperless office solution.  With that the document is created electronically and printed as a PDF file which is easily read by any computer, provided they have a PDF reader installed which you can get for free.  Most computers today have one already installed.

The creation of a PDF file is accomplished by installing software that acts like a printer when you click print.  Only instead of spitting out paper it creates the document as a PDF file which can be read with an application like Adobe Reader.  And if you run the Optical Character Recognition or OCR on the document, it can now be searchable.

At my last company they produced workpapers that the property managers had to review and sign off on.  These were massive documents that were printed as hard copies.  Then they were mailed out to the property managers to review and finally to be signed off on.  Afterwards they were mailed back and scanned into PDF files to be put onto the paperless office solution.

A project that I was instituting was instead of printing the hardcopies in the first place, make the workpapers as PDF files right off the bat.  Review them on-line, print the signature page only and sign off on that.  Now scan that one page and attach it to the workpapers.  From there a simple matter of putting them into the paperless office.  The savings in postage alone was phenomenal.

With programs like Acrobat Professional or Standard it is a simple matter to add notes to the document should there be changes that need to be done or if not that, just print those few pages and not the entire massive package or even add pages to the PDF document.

This not only was a major cost savings as far as printing was concerned but it saved the time and the salary of a person to scan in thousands of sheets of paper and put that person to a more productive position.  Not to mention the space savings as well from not having to store all that toner and paper.

Yet as great as this can be, you still will need to make physical printouts from time to time.  There simply are areas where you need that piece of paper.  So don’t think you need to throw out all of your printers just yet.

Keeping an eye on your printing costs today should not be difficult and can save you a lot of money in the long run.  With the advances in technology that we have there is no reason not to start to move toward paperless printing and include these into a paperless office.