How IT Companies Can Effectively Manage Client Hardware

June 24, 2017

Despite the emergence of “The Cloud”, local hardware will always be required. Even the most basic small business client has a router, a network switch, a PC and one or more printers. Other clients may have Firewalls, Servers, Plotters, Multi-Function Units and any array of other hardware – most of it IP-enabled.Multiply that by multiple clients, and you’ve got an awful lot of hardware that becomes really easy to waste a lot of time and effort trying to manage – if you’re not organized.From Chaos to OrderThe first step in bringing order to the chaos is to buy a Label Printer. My personal favorite is the P-Touch Handheld range from Brother. Anything that you can easily carry with you, plug into the mains (battery operated is fine – but batteries run out, and you then start to forget to label things) and print labels will do the job. If you have more than one engineer, buy them all label printers and get them to label them with their own names – they’ll be more inclined to look after them.Next, organize a time for an engineer to visit client sites with his labeler at the ready – grabbing and labeling anything and everything with a power plug on the end and making a written note of each to take back to the office.(Talking of power plugs, get your engineers into the habit of labeling these too, especially servers. Clearly knowing which plug belongs to a PC and which to a monitor is a real benefit when you’re crawling under a dark desk on a dirty floor trying to work out what to unplug and what not to.)Why Labels?But why bother labeling things?

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Firstly, you’re acknowledging the existence of a device. If it’s labeled, you know about it and can document it for future reference.Secondly, when new hardware “mysteriously” appears at a client site and a client calls you for support on it (probably outside your support contract) you can save yourself a heap of time trying to work out why Windows 7 Home Edition is installed on it rather than a Business O/S.Thirdly, labeling hardware speeds up the support process. If a user telephones the Helpdesk to say they can’t print to “That printer in the corner of the office”, then you can ask them to read the label and quickly identify which printer it is that they’re trying to print to.What to label?What the label says depends on the hardware, but the label should help you easily identify the hardware in question. Some examples:-PCs – Workstation name, Fixed IP address (if applicable)
Servers – Server name, Fixed IP address, Domain name
Routers/Firewalls – External IP address, Internal IP address
Network Switches – Internal IP address, Management IP address
Local Printers – Locally attached Workstation name
Network Printers – Fixed IP address, Queue Name (//Server/Queue)We’re not going to worry about Workstation and Server naming schemes, IP address ranges or any other standards just yet. Right now we’re focusing on documenting what’s already out there.In some cases the engineer won’t be able to identify network equipment. Rather than ignore the hardware, they should label it as “unidentified” and raise a support ticket or make a written note to investigate how to identify it later.This takes some time, especially if you have a lot of clients – but it’s time well spent. You should make this type of ‘discovery work’ a part of the on-boarding process of every new client, as the time spent discovering hardware now will pay dividends when you’re supporting that same hardware later – perhaps in a time-sensitive situation.Document your findingsGoing forwards, make it a policy that from now on, every piece of hardware you deploy to a client site should have a label on it.Document your findings. If you have an RMM tool such as GFI Max, then you’ll already be able to scan networks for devices. Supplement this automated information with your own findings.Pretty soon you’ll have a good overview of the hardware at all your client sites. It’ll make supporting the client, both remotely and on-site, a *lot* easier.The use of the labeler as a force of good doesn’t stop there.Hardware in the WorkshopWhenever an engineer brings a piece of hardware back to the Workshop for troubleshooting, it needs to be labeled. You might label it with the client’s name, a brief overview of the issue, and if you’re using a ticket system, the ticket number.This might sound obvious, but how many times do engineers walk back into the office, drop off some faulty hardware and then get distracted by something else? In this scenario, a colleague may be left scratching his head over who the hardware belongs to and why it’s here, or worse, think the hardware is “spare” and go and re-use it for another job they are working on…

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Talking of spare hardware – it’s worth creating a process to deal with this too. I like to create an area of the workshop that is specifically for Hardware under Repair, Hardware under testing, and Hardware for disposal. Then, as hardware comes in…If it’s hardware that is to be sent back to a manufacturer under RMA, it’s labeled as such and placed in the “Under Repair” area of the workshop.If it’s hardware that may be faulty and required testing, a ticket is raised for this and it’s labeled as “For Testing” and labeled with the appropriate ticket number. The hardware is then placed in the “For Testing” area, and you can confidently give your newly employed Junior Technician something productive to do on his first day in the office.If it’s hardware for disposal, it’s labeled with the fault and marked as “For Disposal”. It’s placed in the “For Disposal” area of the workshop and once every few weeks you arrange for a specialist IT disposal company to collect the pile and dispose of it in an ethical and environmentally-friendly fashion.Save Time With LabelsThe amount of time IT companies can waste trying to re-use faulty hardware that has simply been left lying around, or re-testing known faulty equipment is mind-blowing.A simple system of labeling such hardware saves hours of wasted time.I hope this article has helped to describe how armed with a label printer you can build the basis of a series of systems that lay out how your business deals with client hardware.

Developing Original Humor for Your Talk

June 23, 2017

Most humor in the business setting is unplanned. It just happens. Spontaneous events with clients and co-workers create the surprises and uncomfortable situations which call for humor as a coping tool.We all have differing abilities to recognize, appreciate and create humor. How’s your HQ (humor quotient)? Do you work with people who are full of wit?Regardless of where you are now, you can increase your humor skills. When you study humor, it’s obvious there’s more to it than just spontaneous laughs. There are times when you may want to deliberately use humor, maybe even plan it in advance.Perhaps you want to spice up a training session or a planning meeting. Maybe you want to lighten up a sales presentation. You can learn ways to administer a dose of laughter to help you connect and communicate.There are three elements which can help you understand and structure your humor: surprise, tension and relationships.
First, humor is based on the element of surprise. Humor often comes from something as simple as someone saying the unexpected. The surprise twist creates the humor.Because of the element of surprise, when we are deliberately structuring a piece of humor (perhaps for a speech) we don’t want to telegraph the joke. A line like, “a funny thing happened to me on the way over here,” signals your listeners that a joke is coming. This will lessen the element of surprise.To enhance the surprise, it’s best to place the punch line at the end of the joke. And within the punch line, the punch word is usually given last. The punch word is the word that makes the humor work. It’s the trigger that releases the surprise.If your humor falls flat, do what professional humorists do. Pretend you are serious. Since the listeners didn’t realize you were making a joke, you never need to apologize or explain it. Turn your surprise into a secret.

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It’s no surprise to people who work in pressure-packed work environments that humor is also based on this second principle: release of tension. Laughter is a pressure valve which releases muscle tension. Uncomfortable situations, fear and pain are all tension builders that cry out for humor. We find ourselves laughing at risqué humor and embarrassing situations because they make us uncomfortable. We release the tension they create with humor.People who intentionally and frequently use humor know tension can be used deliberately to heighten the impact of the humor. A pause placed just before the punch line or the punch word builds a sense of anticipation, a form of tension, which makes the joke stronger.In most jobs, daily challenges give you the opportunity to purposely use tension in setting up your humor. Simply by sharing a real life humorous situation, you can recreate the spontaneous circumstances which generated the laughter in the first place. Although there’s nothing like “being there,” you can improve on the actual event by embellishing to create a little more tension in the set up. You can structure the punch line for maximum effect by putting the punch word last. And you can pause to add impact.As we plan our humor, we also notice that the third principle of humor is relationships. Most humor is based on how things are related and not related. We can create humorous twists when we play with relationships.Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons are well known for twisting relationships. One of his frequent tools is giving animals human characteristics. For example, the cartoon shows a car driving down the road. Driving the car is a bull. Sitting next to the bull is a cow. And in the back seat is a calf. They’re driving past a field with humans standing in the pasture. The picture, by itself, creates a funny picture by twisting the normally expected relationships. The calf sticks his head out of the car window and says “Yakity, Yakity, Yak!”Understanding the principle of relationships, you are able to create your own, original humor. You can create “shopping lists” from which you search for humorous connections.Let’s say you had an idea for building some humor. We’ll call this idea a seed from which the humor can grow. Perhaps, on a difficult shift at a hospital, someone made a comment that working in a hospital was like working in a war zone. This is the starting point for developing some humor.You’ll begin by creating two “shopping lists.” On one list you’ll put “hospital things.” And on the other, you’ll list “military things.” It will work better if you choose “military” rather than “war zone” because it’s a broader category which will give you more options when looking for relationships.Your first step is to brainstorm by making the lists as long a possible. The more items you have on each list, the more likely you’ll be able to make some humorous connections.As you make your lists, you’ll look for opportunities to branch out and create sublists to multiply your chances of finding humor. For example, if the idea “basic training” comes to mind, your sublist should contain everything you can think of relating to basic training: drill sergeants, marching, inspections.The next step is to search for connections between your two lists which might lead you to humor. Play with it. Then set it aside and come back to it later. Once you find something with humorous possibilities, you’ll massage it to maximize the humor impact.

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To see what this exercise might produce:”Why a Hospital is Like the Military.”1. In the military, soldiers take orders from people with silver and gold on their shoulders. In a hospital, nurses take orders from people with silver and gold in their wallets.2. When discharged from the hospital after a Lower GI Series, you get the GI bill.3.,Nurses, like soldiers, see a lot of privates.4.mWhen filling out a hospital shift report, you sometimes resort to the policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”5. Nurse training is like boot camp. Never before had you seen so many bald body parts.6. In the military, a fatigue is what you wear. In nursing, it’s what wears on you.7. Soldiers get combat pay. Nurses don’t…but should.Whether you’re creating a list or a slogan to go on a poster, looking for a monologue to open a speech or training session, or just searching for one joke to make a point, you can use these lists to create your humor. It works.These three principles of humor are illustrated by the classic slip on the banana peel. The slapstick spill illustrates surprise because we weren’t expecting someone to fall. We also experience tension. When we see someone get hurt we get startled, and react with tension. It also twists relationships. Seeing a distinguished person sitting on the sidewalk is something our of the ordinary. Surprise, tension, relationships…we laugh!Natural, spontaneous humor is one of your greatest tools for coping with stress as you work. By understanding what makes the humor tick, you can become better at planning and deliberately using this powerful adjunct to your success arsenal.