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Blogging IT One Word at a Time

By Bill Elmore ·
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Sticking to your standards in the face of pushy vendors

by angry_white_male In reply to Sticking to your standard ...

<p>Remember - you're the one holding the checkbook.  Make sure all of these issues are hammered out before signing the conract and writing the check.  Additionally, make sure that the people involved with the software (the guy writing the contract, the dept. head who's purchasing the system, etc...) are on the same page with you.</p>
<p>We've dealt with these issues in the past and thiere's nothing worse than having a system thrown at you when IT was kept out of the loop and having to deal with something that was put together in such a way that goes against every common sense IT thing that you do on a daily basis.</p>
<p>The big thing is remote access so the vendor can provide service - every vendor use a different method - each requiring a different way of accessing it over the internet.  </p>
<p>Make sure IT is involved from the beginning - otherwise, you'll be living with someone else's decision at the expense of your sanity and network security.</p>
<p> </p>

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Sticking to your standards in the face of pushy vendors

by chuck1612 In reply to Sticking to your standard ...

<p>Some of my tips on dealing with pushy vendors ... pretty much the same as dealing with a pushy car salesman ...</p>
<p>Know the word "no" - when you hold the $ you have this power - once you spend the $ you give up some of that power - so they answer is "no" until what they offer is worth the "yes."</p>
<p>Techies love to have other techies affirm and bow to their great sage all-knowing uber-geekness. The savvy vendors play to this. Don't fall for it.</p>
<p>Know who you work for. I'm a school district CIO, so I work for kids, their parents, and the taxpayers. My goal is not to make a vendor like me.</p>
<p>There's a lot of crap software out there (especially for the education sector). If you can't "try before you buy" then buyer beware and then some!</p>
<p>If you didn't talk to other customers first, that's on you! "Client list" does not equal "list of clients who actually bought this particular package, are using it successfully, are on the same version being sold to you, signed on to the whole system, and wouldn't be too embarrassed to admit that they made a crappy decision if asked."</p>
<p>Like the blogger said, "stick to your standards." Don't let one vendor get you to bend them. And don't sign stupid waivers!!!</p>
<p>Chuck Longfellow, Director of Technology, Appoquinimink School District, Middletown DE, USA</p>

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Searching for that needle in the haystack? There is help.

by Bill Elmore In reply to Blogging IT One Word at a ...

<p class="MsoNormal">Answer honestly. How
often do you use search engines? I
know. That?s an incredibly broad
question. Sure, I use Google, MSN or Yahoo
to find information on web sites just like millions of other web surfers. But how often do you use <b>Enterprise Search</b> tools to find data relevant to performing your
job? That is, disparate data stored not
only on the Internet and your intranet, but across data and email repositories,
content management systems and databases to name a few. Admittedly, the closest I?ve come to using an
enterprise search tool is Google Desktop or our company?s intranet. Finding files on my workstation or links on
the Internet? Yawn. I want to see something that helps me find
that long lost box of CDs in my garage.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">Okay, there is nothing that can help me find what I?m
looking for in my garage. (In fact, I
think my wife secretly threw the box away and gets great enjoyment from
watching me fruitlessly search for it.) So,
short of that miracle, there are some very intriguing advancements in search
technology that will become more important as the volumes of data which
companies store continues to grow.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">When you stop and consider all the places your company
stores data, it?s daunting to think about how long it would take to search through
each individual location. Today?s
enterprise search tools can not only search every nook and cranny of your
network, but can search for data regardless of the format it?s stored. Tools such as <a href="http://vivisimo.com/html/com">Vivisimo?s Search Engine</a> can search for
data within relational databases, PDF, ZIP and GZIP files, email, MS Word,
Excel, file servers, intranets. The list
goes on and on. Search results aren?t
returned in the common linear lists which make it difficult and time consuming
to sift through either. Instead, premium
search engines can offer results in clustered and conceptual categories. Take a look at some of the online <a href="http://vivisimo.com/html/demos-list">demos</a> by Vivisimo and you
immediately get that ?Aha!? reaction about what should be the norm when you
execute a search.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">Another major player, if not THE player in enterprise
search, is a company called <a href="http://www.autonomy.com/content/Autonomy/index.en.html">Autonomy</a>. It incorporates what it calls Meaning Based
Computing which takes unstructured and disparate data, and enables computers to
create meaningful relationships. This
goes beyond just performing a keyword lookup which only works to find all
documents with an exact match. Instead,
Autonomy also attempts to find results which contain the same or similar
meaning to what is queried and can execute searches based on pattern matching
and language translation.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">Many corporate solutions don?t rely on only one search
technology. This is where federated
search systems come in. Federated search
takes one familiar front-end search box and passes the query to multiple search
engines. So, say, a search on your company?s
intranet may use Vivisimo or Autonomy technologies to locate data within your
network, while a ?hook? on the backend may also return results using Google or
MSN. This could also have applications for
companies who wish to point search engines toward data repositories on company
extranets. For instance, a search for a company
purchase order would not only return results from your corporate CRM system,
but also the invoice stored on the outside vendor?s data storage system.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">Yes, there are also enterprise search engines such as <a href="http://www.fastsearch.com/">Fast Search & Transfer</a> (FAST) which
cater solutions toward specific niche markets such as corporate regulatory
compliance, criminal investigation and litigation compliance protection. FAST search engines even have the ability to
search video and audio formats and return results based on closed caption text,
voice-to-text recognition and sound recognition.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">Speaking of niche search engines, <a href="http://www.splunk.com/">Splunk</a> is aimed at IT analysts who have spent
countless hours searching for the source of an IT problem. Pretty much nailed all of you, didn?t
it? Splunk allows you to search all data
being ?logged by any service, application or device within your data center,
regardless of source or format? in real time.
When an IT problem is reported, Splunk aims to reduce the mean time to
recovery through live reporting. Perform
a search for a specific error message or incident type and turn it into an
alert that constantly monitors for the event and notifies you when it occurs.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">I am pleasantly surprised at the advancements being made in enterprise
search technologies. With the sheer
volume of data being collected and held onto by companies, it makes sense that
IT has rushed in to fill yet another void.
And since the main hurdle of how to index disparate data types seems to
have been conquered, the direction now seems to be focused on what to do with
the search results returned. This is why
so many of the companies mentioned also offer collaboration with Business
Intelligence tools to provide greater data analysis. This should be interesting to watch as the
market continues to mature. Now, if
someone could please help me with my garage?</p>

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Searching for that needle in the haystack? There is help.

by noel In reply to Searching for that needle ...

You forgot to mention X1 Technologies:  <a href="http://www.x1.com">http://www.x1.com</a>

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IT's role in healthcare safety...

by Bill Elmore In reply to Blogging IT One Word at a ...

<p class="MsoNormal">Improvements in patient safety make up the largest benefit
that information technology brings to the healthcare field.  There are others, of course, such as reduced
healthcare costs thanks to improved operating efficiencies, but safety should
be at the top of the list.  For all the
fingers pointed back at IT when things go wrong, because things do, it?s also
nice to know that we are installing systems which help save lives.  Look around the office the next time you visit
a healthcare provider to receive medical treatment.  Take time to notice the number of
computerized equipment and systems responsible for your care.  If by some small chance you look around and
notice that most of the technology can be accounted for by the video gaming boy
in the waiting room, you may want to turn around and quickly head for the door
marked EXIT.</p>

<p class="MsoNormal"></p>

<p class="MsoNormal">Studies <a href="http://www.jhu.edu/%7Egazette/2006/08may06/safer.html">released</a> by the
John Hopkins Children?s Center report on the reduced risk to patients which
resulted from the implementation of a computerized drug ordering system and a
web-based dosage calculator.  In short,
computer generated orders were compared to hand written orders and it was found
that twenty-seven percent of handwritten orders were incorrect versus six
percent of the computerized orders.  The
computerized system was able to automatically calculate dosage based on weight
and size, and also included safety checklists as well as warnings about
possible drug interactions.  It should
have been easy to assume that computers would perform more accurate
calculations than people.  The added
bonus was the ability to cross-reference other important information such as
personal history and potentially harmful drug combinations.  </p>

<p class="MsoNormal"></p>

<p class="MsoNormal">The VA, yes the same VA still being criticized and burned at
the stake for being the only organization to ever misplace data, appears to
have done something right with regards to technology implementation.  They digitized the medical records of Armed
Forces members.  According to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/technology/la-na-privacy13aug13,1,3998943.story?ctrack=1&cset=true">Los
Angeles Times</a>, this truly proved its worth in the days following the
destruction of Hurricane Katrina as most people seeking medical care were displaced
and without their medical records.  This
forced physicians to guess about the patient?s past history and further
complicated the care delivery process, but not for VA members.  For them, doctors were able to access
prescriptions, records and previous lab results.  This helped improve the accuracy and safety
of the care they received.</p>

<p class="MsoNormal"></p>

<p class="MsoNormal">There are countless other stories and examples which point
to how much safer healthcare is due in large part to the increasing embrace of
technology.  But I am not disillusioned
either.  Implementations of patient care
systems are often difficult for all involved, and often come with their fair
share of speed bumps.  And technology
alone does not make healthcare safer.  Along
with technology, it takes new approaches from medical professionals and the
modification of old processes.  Decisions
by IT professionals also come into play as we must decide which new
technologies to recommend and install. 
Do we go with thin clients and connect wirelessly to the network?  Do we virtualize servers and
applications?  All of these decisions can
affect the delivery of patient care, sometimes negatively.  Once staff becomes dependent on new systems,
the impact of a down system is felt by all, patients and doctors included.  Paper and pen, on the other hand, don?t go
down.</p>

<p class="MsoNormal"></p>

<p class="MsoNormal">But despite some drawbacks and challenges, there is zero
doubt that IT can and does make the delivery of healthcare safer for
patients.  There are patient monitoring
systems that monitor a person?s vital signs and alert the appropriate medical
staff, and pharmacy systems that warn of possible allergic reactions and help
prevent overdosing.   Yes, healthcare is
making strong strides in safety thanks to IT. 
</p>

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IT's role in healthcare safety...

by Leee In reply to IT's role in healthcare s ...

I worked for the VA in 1995-96, as a medical photographer. They were very, very aware of possible lawsuits (even though I understand it's rather difficult for a private individual to sue the government). Frequently something would go wrong, and we'd be ordered to destroy our slides in order to cover up any evidence. Although the procedures were often innovative, the facilities were (to put it nicely) decidedly unsanitary. It was (and still is) truly a hospital of last resort for many who have nowhere else to go. So, I do believe that some of their data loss is intentional - it's a bureaucracy, pure and simple, that can keep meticulous records on their patients while doing the old CYA act more efficiently than most.<br /><br />I'm curious to know how things have changed in a decade.

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Why must we pay for bad help?

by Bill Elmore In reply to Blogging IT One Word at a ...

<p class="MsoNormal">I may anger some vendors with this topic. Okay, I feign to care. Can someone please tell me why software vendors
send installation technicians who know so little about a) the product they are
installing and b) computers in general? Do you ever feel like the tech that just left should pay you for all the training they just received? Working
for a fairly large company I see my fair share of vendors come and go. We upgrade and install new systems every
year, maybe too many. But because of
this, I get the opportunity to work with many fine field ?engineers?. </p>


<p class="MsoNormal">In some cases, the technician the vendor sends is one of
their own, a corporate employee, and in other instances it is someone from a
local partner or VAR (Value Added Reseller). Either way, I find
that too many times their IT knowledge is severely limited. Get them out of their comfort zone and that?s
it. You may as well take over the
installation. Most arrive with
documentation that walks them through every step of the process. A script, if you will. I can appreciate having a script to reference. The script is a set of instructions that tells
the technician exactly what to do and helps to ensure that nothing is forgotten
as well as keeps their customer sites essentially the same. This can make troubleshooting efforts easier
for their support staff. The problem is,
don?t make them stray too far from the script or you could put the entire
installation in jeopardy.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">It?s generally the little things. The tech arrives on-site to discover that
I?ve named the server something other than what his directions indicate;
instead of EMPLHSLP, it?s ADVRPT1. A few
months ago, I went on site to assist a vendor field engineer with a new
installation. It was a good thing too
because his instructions were to install everything to the C: drive. We happen to configure our Windows servers
with two partitions ? a system partition and a data/application partition. I confused him by instructing him to install the
application to E:. The day was then spent
demonstrating how to troubleshoot Windows error messages and editing batch
files to change path statements. I
honestly believe it was the first time he had opened a batch file for
editing. People starting fresh in the IT
field should not be sent to customer sites.
Or, if they are, they should be accompanied by an experienced
professional. It should be noted that he
was a professional, friendly guy who repeatedly thanked me for helping him and
showing him new ?tricks? to use for future installations. I won?t divulge the name, but can say that the
vendor in this case was a large international company that should be able to
hire qualified personnel.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">I generally don?t mind helping others in IT, especially
coworkers. But I do mind paying a
company for a service, and then spending time showing their technicians how to
perform basic troubleshooting tasks. You
generally pay a third party to perform an installation or service call because
you?re either too busy to do it yourself or you want to have someone on-site
that knows more about the system than you.
This isn?t an overblown rant over one bad experience either. I see more and more inexperienced or
unknowledgeable technicians. I do not
want to waste valuable time training someone else?s staff, and paying to train
them just adds salt to the wound.</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">To be fair, there are many field engineers who are very
knowledgeable and good at what they do. I?ve
learned a lot from some and take my hat off to them. We do have a complex environment that may not
be typical of what most support staff sees.
Even so, I would expect the person who arrives to know how to work
around basic problems that almost always arise.
I expect the person to know what Citrix MetaFrame is, and to be able to
work with me when I tell him the server isn?t a physical piece of hardware but
is instead a hosted virtual server. Am I
asking too much?</p>


<p class="MsoNormal">What are your experiences with vendor field
technicians? Good? Bad?
Some of both I presume. If you
happen to work for a software vendor or VAR, defend yourself and tell me your
side. I know it?s not always black and
white?</p>

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Why must we pay for bad help?

by NickNielsen In reply to Why must we pay for bad h ...

Having been a vendor field technician in a past life, I can't disagree with everything you say. Yes, you should expect that your VAR/vendor tech is competent in basic
IT tasks. Yes, you would expect that the VAR/vendor will provide a
technician competent in your systems. I have worked with "experienced" technicians who couldn't recognize a command prompt two out of three times. I have also been sent to support systems that I have never seen before. These are training and qualification issues that the VAR/vendor must address. But what often happens is that the project requires an additional hire on a temp basis. Rather than hiring a local fill-in and sending out a tech familiar with the client system, the VAR will send the poor sucker just hired to the client site with no supporting documents or training except the requisite script, which was handed to him on his way out the door. <br /><br />Scripts are indeed a problem, since most do not allow for deviation, <em>even if the script is
wrong</em>. Script accuracy is always questionable, even when verified on actual production equipment. I have received more than one installation/configuration
script in my current job that caused me to raise my eyebrows when I
reviewed it before I tried to execute it. My familiarity with the
client systems was what got me through. The poor guy in the paragraph above doesn't even have that advantage. On the other hand, "standard" configurations at the client site often
aren't. Your example of a server name is minor; I have seen standard
configurations vary from power connections on the "wrong" UPS to major
hardware differences that made the upgrade impossible.<br /><br />Neither side is blameless, neither is perfect. We do our best to work around or through the problems to get the job done.<br />

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Why must we pay for bad help?

by LCMA In reply to Why must we pay for bad h ...

<p>There is no discussion !! ... you are right. I worked for a big software corp for 12 years in Latin-America and had to face that a lot of times myself or through some "junior" staff at hand we had to send to our customer. The problem is money, costs and how important you are for that corporate/VAR/vendor. If you complain a lot maybe they will shift the senior consultant from one project he is currently on to go to your site. </p>
<p>I?m no longer working for a corp and want to add-value to my customers from my new enterprise. One way of doing so is by sending skilled technicians to the field but that narrows the scope of business we can deal with. If we want to grow we have to take risks ... and there begin the problem again ...</p>
<p>As a customer you should complain and never accept less than expected (even if the guy who came is a nice one and you don?t want to cause him trouble). As a vendor you should back your wage with qualify people, the market knows who is who because every more often they have started to share their experiences.</p>

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Why must we pay for bad help?

by Steve Ingham In reply to Why must we pay for bad h ...

If the local auto shop does not charge if it finds nothing wrong with your car, why do vendors charge when they supply no meaningful answer to your problem? Both shops spend time diagnosing. How were we sucked into this poor customer service business model????

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