Tag Archives: IT Services

Conferences for IT Services Professionals: the what, why, where and how.

Conferences for IT Services ProfessionalsAs we’ve said before, IT tools are not just physical gadgets that you can pick up and wave around the datacenter, they also include knowledge and connections or in other words – people. While there are many online communities for IT pros which we talked about in that  linked article, there are of course offline ‘meatspace’ places for meeting and greeting and learning and sharing. The infamous conference circuit is where the action is and there’s plenty of conferences to keep you busy all year around.

If you’ve never been to a conference you may be wondering what goes on there? How should you prepare? Is it worth the often not inconsiderable cost? Well the answers to those questions depends very much on what you are expecting to get from the event, what kind of event it is etc..  and yes you generally should prepare to some extent to ensure you get  the most out of it.

Excuses
For many people conferences are just an excuse to get a day or three away from the office to party in a fancy hotel in Vegas on the company expense account (and of course what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas). However besides partying there are actually other reasons to attend..  networking is a big one as it’s a great chance to meet potential clients and partners, thrash out lucrative new business deals and perhaps co-found what seems like it will surely be the next hottest thing, until you sober up the next morning..

Besides that, a good conference will be packed with informative sessions by industry experts and you can certainly learn a lot so don’t forget to bring a pen & paper (or tablet/netbook if you want to go all hi-tech 😉 ) and take notes!

Schwag
There will of course be schwag, or there should be as no conference could get away without the giveaway these days – the “schwag bag” is one of the key reasons for attending such events – we attendees need our free rubber stress balls, mouse mats, pens, hats, t-shirts, bags, badges, stickers, USB thingymajigs and assorted shiny things, all of course stamped with a company logo or domain name so you wont forget who provided the freebie sat on your desk or at the back of a drawer six months later.

The Events
So what does the coming year have in store for the prospective IT conference attendee? Read on for our current recommendations for IT services events..

If CISCO is your thing then you will want to be at CISCO Live which provides a working weeks worth of fun with routers. Whether you are a CCNA or CCIE or just want to get your hands on some Cisco schwag, this is the place to be.

HDI offers the ‘World Conference for Technical Services and Support’ which is attended by over 2000 people and lasts for 4 days, not including multiple pre-conference breakfasts and the like.

If you’re in the MSP line of work then you wont want to miss MSP World – you might even win $5k!

RMM service provider GFIMAX also has their own IT events around the world each year which are popular with MSP’s and IT techs.

Interop is yet another event worth checking out and as good an excuse as any to visit Las Vegas for a few days.

Gartner has events all over the place for a whole range of IT related themes so pick your poison and off you go.

Over in Europe there is the ridiculously large CeBIT conference (in fact the worlds largest IT conference) which runs for 5 days and features hundreds (if not thousands) of sessions and exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors.

These days ‘the cloud’ is red hot so of course you’ll just have to head for CloudExpo in Europe if you want to stay on top of the game.

Also in Europe (UK to be precise), there is IPEXPO which bills itself as the the UK’s number one enterprise IT event. If that isn’t enough to tempt you – the whole event, featuring hundreds of sessions and hundreds of exhibitors, is FREE to attend!

If you want to get in on the latest tips, tricks and news from the search engine world then SMX is the place to be and they have events all over the world.

There are of course many, many more IT events including offerings from IBM, Microsoft, Citrix, Oracle, ASCII, CompTIA, Asterisk, VMware, SITS, HP, Parallels, Infosec, RSA, HostingCon, and not forgetting of course CES.

If you manage to attend all those and live to tell the tale – let us know!

So what are your plans for the conference circuit this year? Do you have any favorite events to recommend? Or any to avoid even? Feel free to comment below.

 

Time Tracking Tools

Time Tracking ToolsTime has a habit of passing by like sand through your fingers and as a freelance IT consultant, technician or MSP you are effectively leaving money on the table if you do not properly track ALL possible billable time. However what seems at first to be a trivial issue, logging some time worked, is often quite a bit more complex when you start looking into it more thoroughly. For example tracking work performed on multiple projects in parallel or by multiple techs working on the same project or on separate projects at the same time, etc etc. So clearly if you want to make the most of your time you need a solution which tracks the most of your time!

Fortunately there are many time tracking tools out there, which is hardly surprising since this is by no means a new problem, but these days with SaaS and Cloud services popping up everywhere and people working remotely from all corners of the globe, the market has spawned a whole range of new and exciting timer solutions which are not nearly as desktop bound as the old days and thus provide the flexibility that not only today’s IT workers demand, but the companies they work for, whether as a freelancer or employee.

Since there are many IT tools out there which are widely used and depended on by techs, such as a PSA, a fairly key feature requirement is the ability to integrate with those other tools where appropriate. Commonly this is done via an API either on the Timer side or with the other tool or even with both which would allow for a more complete and effective two-way integration.

In  order to be effective and actually be used, a Timer app needs to be simple to operate as well as unobtrusive yet always within easy reach. If there is even the smallest barrier or perceived inconvenience to use it then there is a significant risk that it will be forgotten and billable time will ultimately be lost forever.

Some Timer services go much further than just time logging and include project management and more although those then morph into different products that happen to have a timer function and so run the risk of breaking that ‘keep it simple’ rule required to be effectively used.

Some examples of Timer apps/services include:

Toggl

GetKlok

GetHarvest

Freckle

TimeTiger

TSheets

Replicon

PayMo

If you’re still in need of more time trackers to play with then this wikipedia article should provide you with plenty to keep you occupied – but don’t forget to log that time while you research them all!

 

 

PSA Tools for IT Service Providers

Professional Services AutomationAmong the key software tools used by MSP’s and IT service providers is an application known as a PSA which means Professional Services Automation.

There are a number of PSA tools around such as PacketTrap from Dell. Some PSA’s are aimed at certain types of service providers and some are more generic in nature, while others such as CommitCRM are more focused specifically on the IT services market. PSA software can be desktop or server based or sometimes even in the so called ‘cloud’ and in either case a mobile front end is a popular feature these days.

But what exactly is a PSA? What does it do? The precise feature set does in fact vary somewhat between the different PSA applications out there but core features typically found will include the likes of customer accounts/contacts (CRM), support ticket management and email handling, employee time logging and calculating labor utilization, an alerts/notification system, calendar/scheduling, contracts, billing, reporting, project management, asset tracking and more.

Another important feature in a PSA is integration with external systems which are commonly used in the industry.  For example integration with accounting software (ie. QuickBooks), remote monitoring and management  systems, etc. Such integration is often done using an API on one or both sides. An API in the PSA application also allows users to build custom add-ons and tightly integrate the PSA with their existing or custom systems, providing even more value and efficiency in workflows and business processes for those that choose to go down that path.

Using a PSA allows a service provider to work more efficiently, automatically assigning tickets and tasks to technicians, responding to client support requests in a timely manner, keeping tracking of billing,  generating complex reports on all aspects of the business, while having all relevant information easily to hand,  which combines to produce more billable hours for the company and also happier customers who are getting a better level of service.

Once a PSA tool has been properly implemented in a business it quickly becomes the core application or hub around which all others are built and integrate with. Customers, vendors, employees and even sub-contractors all interact with it in symbiosis. In effect it is the nerve center of the service providers business without which the company simply isn’t able to function to anywhere near capacity.

 

Welcome to Tools for IT Services

Tools for IT ServicesWelcome to the Tools for IT Services blog where we will talk about and review many of the essential tools of the trade. Everything from software to hardware to services and online communities and resources which many in the industry find invaluable whether they be technicians for MSP’s or computer repair shops or running their own IT services business.

Needless to say, software for the busy IT shop or MSP includes the likes of professional services automation (PSA), accounting (such as the ubiquitous Quickbooks) and Outlook (or something of that ilk) amongst others and we will write about several.

Hardware used by IT people these days naturally includes smartphones and increasingly popular tablets of one kind or another combined with handy apps for testing, diagnosis, research and even PDF signing. But there’s more which can usually be found in a techs toolbox such as a multimeter, cable testers, screwdrivers and spanners and of course a few spare cables.

Web based services or “SaaS” to use the buzzword du jour, cloud based or otherwise, are all the rage these days and there are many which are used in this industry which offer such things as accounting, time tracking, monitoring/RMM and more. Which are the best? We’ll give you our opinions soon..

The web is all about communities and there are millions out there covering every imaginable interest from the narrowest niche for a specific app or component to the broadest general IT related community. Such communities can be based on forums or social network groups or even email lists and over time they become a vast treasure trove of knowledge from previous discussions and answers but also from existing active members who respond to requests for help or advice.

We will also cover industry news and events as well as discuss trends and changes in the IT services world.

Hopefully you will stick around or come back again to read our articles as we continue to update this site over time and if there’s anything you’d like us to cover – give us a shout!