Horse Sense #83
 

In this issue of Horse Sense:
  • Tips
  • Finding Money for Your Pet Projects (3)
 
Tips:
 
 
Teach your old cell phone new tricks:  <expired link>

 
Want to do something on your computer and wonder what software could get the job done?  <http://alternativeto.net/> has lots of good ideas for you.  You can even find out if there are free or paid alternatives to the software you are already using.  This is a good place to look when looking for software to implement point 12 of Finding Money for Your Pet Projects.

 
You can work faster in your applications by keeping your hands on the keyboard and using short cuts.  You can find short cuts for many applications and operating systems at <http://www.keyxl.com/> and the less comprehensive and less nerdy <http://shortcutworld.com/>.

 
For a free and useful addition to Firefox, download New Tab King from <http://www.newtabking.com/>.  When you open a new tab, this add on allows you to see and select your most visited sites, your most recently closed tabs, your most used applications, and more.

 
Did someone send you a file you can't open?  First, make sure you can trust the file.  Just because that e mail says it came from Jimmy does not mean that file is safe.  Check it out.  Then visit <http://www.openwith.org/> to help you find a free program to open that file.

 
To enhance your security, train your people.  If you want to see how the best security measures in the world can be easily circumvented, read The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick.  After reading it, you will know why professional security people never assume the network is secure.

 
You can try the latest Windows operating system, version 7, which is still in beta, free until 6/1/2010 here: 
<http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/download.aspx> Remember, beta is the computer industry term for broken as one friend of mine puts it.  This is unfinished software, but Microsoft thinks this late beta is nearly in the final form, so it is calling it Release Candidate 1.  Microsoft intends to have Windows 7 in stores by October 22, 2009.  I find this rather interesting, because the beta Release Candidate 1 will still be functional. Note that if you want to use this beta software, Microsoft recommends that you wipe your disk and start over when you install the official version.  For those who never transitioned to Vista from XP, there should be an upgrade option.  To make sure machines will be available on October 22, Microsoft will release the Windows 7 code to manufacturers in late July.  Once the manufacturers get the code in July, they will be able to offer you a license that will give you the option of a upgrading to Windows 7 when it ships.


 
Finding Money for Your Pet Projects (3)
 
Here are some ideas on how to find money for your pet projects and how to spend that money wisely.  Some may be obvious to you.  Others may seem to repeat a point I've already made, but that is only natural since we are talking about improving on the same basic processes.  Looking at the problem from a different direction sometimes triggers a revelation.  Be on the lookout for our next Horse Sense which will cover still more ways for you to get a Return on Grief (TM).  Of course, if you have any ideas or comments you would like to share with us, we are listening!

 
Already covered in Horse Sense 81 <http://www.ih-online.com/hs81.html>:
(1)  Reexamine what you are doing.
(2)  Say no.
(3)  Use consultants.
(4)  Get a better warranty.
(5)  Do less.
(6)  Get someone else to do it who values your business.
(7)  Think small.
(8)  Be prepared.
(9)  Maintain what you have in good order.
(10)  If you can't hire staff, consider outsourcing functions.

 
Already covered in Horse Sense 82 <http://www.ih-online.com/hs82.html>:
(11)  Consider different methods of paying for what you need.
(12)  Use free stuff.
(13)  Consider bulk buying, even if it costs you more now.
(14)  Buy for the long term.
(15)  Start at the right end of the problem.
(16)  Use dates wisely.
(17)  Keep a wish list.
(18)  Cut recurring costs.
(19)  Cut your licensing by using only what you need.
(20)  Go green or turn it off.

 
(21)  Buy the latest and greatest if you can.  Sometimes the latest edition is not only better, but it is cheaper and safer.  Adobe fixes security flaws in its current products before it does so for its older ones.  Newer licensing options from Symantec are less costly than maintaining older licensed versions.  Maintenance costs on old Cisco hardware can often be easily recouped by buying newer gear.

 
(22)  Don't be afraid to stick with an oldie but a goody.  We run the same DOS based contact management software to track our clients that I was using in 1986.  We periodically think of upgrading it, but it works well enough for us.  Not that we aren't looking....

 
(23)  Retask and reuse.  We decommissioned a 486/33 Windows 3.11 machine after 12 or more years of service.  It was my primary machine for a while.  Then someone else in the office had it.  It spent the remaining years of its life as a fax server.  Finally, the hard drive died and it didn't make sense to replace it.  Just because a piece of hardware or software isn't getting the job done for you doesn't mean that it won't work fine for someone else.  If your organization doesn't have use for it, you might be able to sell or give it to an employee, sell it to a used equipment dealer, give it to a charity for a tax deduction or that warm fuzzy feeling, or reuse some of the parts internally as spares while recycling the rest.

 
(24)  Anything that saves you time is probably worth paying for.  What can you automate that is sucking up your time?  For example, you could build a house with a hand tools, but power tools will speed things along and often give a much better result.  What power tools could you use in your business to save time and money?  A good place to start is our newsletter articles on "The Best Technologies You Still Aren't Using."  <http://www.ih-online.com/hs80.html>  One example from that list:  disk based backup is often cheaper than doing tape based backup, more flexible, and quite a bit faster, allowing you to get back to doing something useful quicker.

 
(25)  Have Uncle Sam pay for it.  In addition to having someone else in your organization pay for what you want to do with their money (tip 11), you should look outside the organization for money.  For example, if you use a Section 179(a) tax deduction, you can treat your buy as an expense rather than depreciate it over several years. 
<http://www.irs.gov/instructions/i4562/ch01.html>. This can result in some pretty substantial savings.  Who says you can't use those savings to help justify the expense of doing something you need to do?  These deductions are based on your tax year.  So, if you are nearing the end of your tax year, you will get an enormous bang for the buck if you buy before year end rather than wait until the new tax year.
 
The federal government will also help you pay for energy saving equipment and upgrades with tax credits in some cases.  Want a digital TV converter?  You can get a coupon worth $40 towards its purchase.  The federal government has many other programs as well.
 
It doesn't stop there, though.  States and even corporations will pay you to change your behavior.  Building power plants is extremely expensive.  Virginia has delayed building power plants, so it imports power from other states.  Imported power is often more expensive and less reliable than more locally generated power.  To keep from building new plants or importing as much power, some utility companies have funds to help their customers become more energy efficient.  They will even help you buy light bulbs! I have even seen utilities help power hungry customers afford more efficient equipment by providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in electricity credits!

 
(26)  Renew on time!  Maintenance and support agreements are usually least expensive when purchased with the original item and for multiple years (see point 13).  However, you really don't want those agreements to run out.  The renewal price of an agreement is much less than having to pay a reinstatement or upgrade fee.  Missing a renewal opportunity can cost you a ton.  In some cases, a renewal might not even be available.  In general, renewing early isn't a problem, so if you have cash lying around (hey, it does happen!) and a maintenance agreement you know you will have to renew, go ahead and do it early.
 
Don't renew without reassessing your needs and talking to a licensing expert.  We recently had a client upgrade to a more comprehensive bundle of Symantec software and it actually saved them thousands of dollars versus renewing the software they had.  Terms and conditions can change radically.  One client could never afford 24x7 support, but wanted it for some software they had.  After a couple of years, Symantec changed its policies, and they got their 24x7 support for a nominal cost increase.

 
(27)  Kill the budget!  I understand how important a budget is for many people, but I frankly don't care about it (not my job) and neither should you.  A budget is what you thought you were going to spend at some point in the past.  It is a guideline.  It doesn't reflect current needs.  If you need something bad enough you will do it.  I doubt during your next heart attack if you will be worried whether you budgeted for it.  At that point, you just have to deal with it as best you can.  Budgets can be very destructive to good business.  They can "force" you to do things like buy maintenance in only one year increments, even though you know you will need support for multiple years and can save a lot by buying those years up front.  It won't "allow" you to spread the cost of a project over two years.  It won't allow you to rob from one area (utility costs, tax savings) to help you pay for something you need.  This is a very shortsighted view and is a good reason why accountants and finance people don't run companies.  They tend to look at costs, not benefits and value.
 
I am actually relieved to hear it when people say, "We don't have any money to spend."  "Great!  Now we can talk about your problems without your fear that I'll try to sell you something, because both of us know you are broke!"  Of course, they think I'm weird, but I'm used to that....  In any case, we can start a relationship with less stress and often, using the ideas I've expounded upon here, we actually end up doing mutually beneficial business together!
 
When management is spooked, as in this current fiscal climate, it is a good time to challenge many assumptions.  And one that is easy to challenge is that the budget is immutable because, for many businesses (including governments and schools), revenues aren't meeting expectations, so "radical" changes are being made.  This is a good thing for radical thinkers who have been restrained in the past by their budgets.  Now you can do things that never would have been considered before.

 
(28)  Stop (or start) the vicious cycle.  Everything has a useful lifetime, except husbands.  You do want to replace your computing tools when they fail to meet your needs.  Typically most organizations do this on a three to five year cycle.  Can or should you change that cycling because of your current needs and challenges?  If all you are doing is word processing and surfing the web, you can use a machine that is quite old, for example.  But, if your server can't keep up with the load you put on it or you want to lower your costs by combining many servers into one via virtualization, you will need a new, more capable server.  You also don't want your cycle to "force" you into replacements that will be hard to swallow.  Remember tip 7 about thinking small?  One local school decided to purchase all new computers for its students.  That mass buy may have saved a couple of procurement dollars, but staging the equipment and getting it out to the students proved difficult, and now at 3 years later, the warranties have all died, the machines are failing, and there isn't the money to replace them all.  Financial experts recommend periodic investment to maximize return on your personal financial portfolio.  The same is true of your business.  Investing over time is easier, less disruptive, and more likely to return value.
 
If you want your cycle to last longer, you need to buy that way.  Cable in your walls should last a very long time.  You don't want the expense and disruption of recabling or pulling additional cables, so you should buy towards the high end of the market and pull that cable to every conceivable spot you might need to put some networked equipment.  Fiber cabling isn't that much more than copper cabling to put in your walls, though to connect to it normally costs $150 or more per connection.  It has unique advantages over copper cable.  It will not conduct potentially damaging electricity between devices.  Light will travel reliably in a fiber cable much farther and faster than it will in copper cables.  You can't tap into a fiber cable as easily as you can a copper one.  You can even send multiple non-interfering wavelengths of light down a single fiber cable.  These are all very good reasons why utility companies are moving so quickly to replace their copper cabling with fiber and why almost all new developments are cabled with fiber.

 
(29)  Procrastination kills (and saves).  Few things actually need to be done right now.  It is OK to procrastinate, especially when it comes to your computing needs.  In general, next year's products tend to be better, faster, cheaper, more capable....  People ask me when they should upgrade or buy something new.  I ask them if they are missing something they want now and/or in the not too distant future.  If the answer is no, then they can stand pat.  Usually, the answer is yes or they wouldn't have called.  With a yes answer, you shouldn't procrastinate.  The greatest costs in your business life are lost time and lost opportunity.  If something new can help you save time or create an opportunity, don't wait.  Buy it now.  If I told you for every $1 you gave me, I'd give you $2 in 1 year and you knew you would get that money, how many dollars would you want to give me, even if it wasn't in the budget?

 
(30)  Ditch the big contract.  I am always disheartened when I hear that someone is shackled to a contract that forces them in directions they may not want to go.  Even if it is a "good" thing, it may not be all that palatable.  Think of it this way.  You are a kid.  You like popsicles.  You tell your mom.  She finds a buy on popsicles at the local Large Mart and buys 748 grape ones.  It takes up all of her freezer space, so you and your siblings only get to eat grape popsicles for the next 6 months until she buys another set of mango cherry (not your favorite).  Large organizations like large contracts.  They can throw all of their money in one direction and "get out" of the procurement business while that contract lasts.  But, it raises your technological and business risks, often to unacceptable levels.
 
Many organizations, especially governments, like large, sexy contracts and that makes it tough to change directions and obtain more value for your money, even from the same supplier.  It makes it hard to take advantage of openings in the market as well.  Wouldn't you hate to pay higher prices or get inferior service or work with people you detest because you had tied yourself to a long term contract with one supplier?  You have to follow the rules of the contract until it expires, don't you?  Even more damaging is creating a process that makes it difficult to work with someone else.  Governments, especially, have all types of unique barriers and rules.  It can be especially hard for many organizations to contract for a smaller amount of labor.  For example, let's say someone in a remote office needs some hands on help setting up their network or getting training on how to handle a new piece of software.  Getting that contract written could be just as hard as writing a $50 million "catch all" services contract.  That is like telling someone you will only work with them and the people they pick to paint your house, mow your lawn, fix your car, drive your kids to school, fix your plumbing, take our your appendix, and clean your teeth.  Does that sound like a good idea to you?  And, if you don't have that large contract, you can't get anything done until it gets awarded.  Getting what you need without using an existing large contract can often be quite difficult, and it should be or no one would want to enter into a large contract.  Large contracts often don't work well in IT because they can't deal with the rapid change in the technological and business environment.
 
Make sure you aren't artificially limiting yourself by your contracts or your process for getting the help you need.  The best contracts are short term, have incentives for both parties to do well, have clearly articulated expectations and easily measured results.  Often, these contracts are very simple and the contract documents are minimal and sometimes non-existent.  The best contracts build relationships that everyone hopes will continue far into the future with more partnerships.  Put it this way: everyone wants to be the reference success story for a vendor.  They want to know and show how startlingly well everything went.  The written contract matters far less to the parties than their mutual cooperation and results.  We would like all of our clients to sing our praises to others and do business with us forever.  I work with a lot of professional procurement people in governments.  They have to follow a tremendous number of rules which would seem to say that their process needs to be micromanaged because they are incompetent and that their vendors will somehow shaft the government.  If that is the way you slant the process, then you will probably get what you expect, lots of grief and not enough relief.  In the real world, though, there has to be a trust and partnership between any two business partners.  The more you can build on relationships, understand one another, and be committed to your mutual success, the better off you both will be.

©2009 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse tstirk@ih-online.com