Category

Technology and Operations

February 2019 Newsletter: How to best leverage your Managed Service Provider

By | Technology and Operations

It is critical for organizations to maintain their operating systems’ functionality to ensure they continue to meet their business needs. Many companies look to external vendor partners to support and maintain these systems. These vendors are often referred to as Managed Service Providers, or MSPs. They offer a wide range of services, and expertise at various costs.

Warren Whitney’s Fractional CIO, David Nelms, works closely with mid-sized companies to select appropriate systems and partners or to assist them with managing existing partnerships.  He works with companies and their partners to define strategic technology plans and key projects.  Organizations need guidance for many reasons:

  • They aren’t comfortable with current spending levels or services.
  • They are growing and expect to have additional needs.
  • They simply don’t feel they have the appropriate background and knowledge to make key decisions.

Based on a variety of factors, it is often complicated for organizations to know how to select and/or manage their MSPs. Warren Whitney has worked with many of the major local MSP providers, though we do not have defined partnerships with them, allowing us to remain objective as we act on a client’s behalf.

Here are the 6 key questions we ask when assessing our clients’ MSP relationships or when we evaluate new ones:

1) Do the MSP’s technical skills and the technologies they support align with the needs of the organization?

Some hardware, software, and networking technologies are better suited for the complex needs of large enterprise organizations, while others may be a better fit for small to mid-sized companies. Some MSPs may focus on selling and supporting technologies from a limited number of vendor organizations, while others may consider themselves technology and vendor agnostic.  In some cases, this creates a tradeoff between depth of knowledge and scope of what the MSP can effectively support. Companies need to have a general understanding of the type and complexity of their technological needs, so they can assess the potential fit.

2) Is the partner/potential partner a good cultural fit, and is it easy to communicate with key people in the organization?

We often find people think their MSP partners are “probably technically sound,” but they feel challenged when they try to communicate with management or the teams that work on projects or provide day-to-day support.  The technical jargon used can often differ between the teams so it feels like they are speaking different languages.  While sometimes difficult to do up front, it is very important to have a sense of how well the organization and the MSP will be able to work together and communicate.

3) Does the provider have well defined processes in place to make sure issues are quickly resolved and that evolving trends are proactively identified?

One of the realities in the MSP world is that most support providers either use the same tools to provide support and monitoring for systems, or they use ones that are very similar in their capabilities.  The key difference is: 1) How well the provider configures these tools, 2) How frequently and thoroughly they look at the information the tools produce, 3) How quickly they respond to any issues that arise, and 4) How effectively they analyze data to differentiate root causes from symptoms.  These are definitely some of the main areas to explore with any potential MSP partner.

4) Does the MSP have knowledge of any industry specific requirements and an appropriate focus on security?

Different organizations may have a variety of industry specific requirements that their technologies have to adhere to (e.g. HIPAA, PCI, etc.).  All organizations need to make sure their servers, networks, PCs, and software are appropriately equipped and configured to protect against a constantly evolving set of security threats.  It is absolutely critical to understand whether any potential MSP partner is equipped to both address current needs and continue to stay ahead of the game in these key areas.

5) Does the MSP contractually commit to service levels that meet the needs of the organization, and are all agreements constructed in a mutually beneficial manner?

To make sure expectations are clear for everyone involved, it is critical to have defined service levels for all key areas and to understand what the service levels mean.  As an example, many people are surprised when they find that a service level stating that “systems will be available 99.9% of the time” could actually mean that the specified systems can be down for well over 8 hours over the course of a year and still be considered within the defined availability level.  What if this down time was all to occur during the day on a busy day?  Would this be acceptable?  Companies should make sure appropriate service levels are defined and know exactly what they mean.

6) Is the relationship actively managed and trust based?

All too often, companies tell us that they are frustrated with their existing relationships, but we then find that they don’t meet regularly with the vendor partner and they feel they don’t understand what they do or how to ask them the “right questions”.  As with any partnership, both parties need to be committed to set clear expectations as much as possible, communicate effectively, and actively manage the relationship. There will invariably be issues related to technology and technology support, but the key question relates to how effectively any issues get resolved. As soon as trust in a partner erodes significantly, this is usually an indication of a larger issue.

While some of these questions may seem basic, the challenging part is asking the questions correctly and assessing the information provided, especially for organizations that don’t have experienced technology leadership. Defining and managing relationships with technology partners is especially challenging for complex organizations, especially ones that are growing rapidly, undergoing a wide variety of changes, or heavily dependent on internal process efficiency. Warren Whitney’s Technology and Operations expert, David Nelms, has deep experience in these areas and is prepared to help clients address these concerns.

Helping define and manage technology partners is just one of the many Fractional and Advisory services provided by our Technology and Operations team.  If you have questions or would like to discuss any challenges you may be having, please contact David Nelms at dnelms@warrenwhitney.com or 804.977.6695.

 

July 2018 Newsletter

By | Family Businesses, Technology and Operations

Valuable technology tips for your business

Technology can be a competitive differentiator, but the constantly evolving world of technology is challenging to navigate for businesses.   Growing businesses evaluating technological support want to ensure they get appropriate value, maintain efficiencies, and stay ahead of the curve. Finding the right software and systems to best suit these rapidly changing demands, is often the key to success.

David Nelms, Warren Whitney’s Director of Technology and Operations, explains that outgrowing technology is one of the most common problems expanding companies face. “The biggest challenge when evaluating a business’s systems is knowing the path to take and making sure that the technology is keeping pace with needs. Adding to the complexity is that upgrading systems can often be very expensive; there is a lot more involved than just the base cost. “

Tip #1: Evaluate your needs. Do not dive straight into looking at new software or systems before you understand your current and future needs. When David works with his clients, he stresses the critical nature of knowing the problem they are trying to solve.  He says, “an objective, in-depth survey is essential to define the foundation for support.”

Tip #2: Analyze your software options. After defining the foundation for support, a thorough analysis of your top software options will help cut through the clutter so you can make the most cost-effective investment.  David cautions, “the most expensive, shiny new system with lots of bells and whistles may not be the answer. For some, the most basic, cost effective solution may solve most, if not all, technological problems. “

Tip #3: Embrace your new technology. After purchasing a new system, the commitment to being educated on how everything should work, configuring the systems to achieve results, and providing employee training are keys to success. “This total commitment will determine the system’s success.”

To give an example why all three of these tips are equally important, David recently worked with a firm that was frustrated with its newly acquired ERP and Human Resources systems. During the discovery process, he learned this company had purchased the most highly regarded and functional systems in the industry.  These systems were an excellent fit; not overly complicated or expensive.  The company had done a good job of understanding their capabilities before the purchase but it had not been effectively implemented. As a result, the systems were configured to duplicate the client’s old systems. Also, there had been no employee training. Understandably, the firm did not gain anything from the investment and their frustration was with good reason. Fortunately, David was able to identify and address the client’s issues, allowing the team to benefit from the investment and achieve what they originally set out to accomplish.

Commitment and knowing your business’s current and future needs are two of many necessary detailed steps to ensure a smooth and successful integration of new technology. Integrating new technology is a major investment and big expenditure, it can be risky especially if it supports core business processes. Having someone with experience to guide you through this complex world is essential. Unbiased and objective conversations are critical to the selection and implementation process.

If you are looking to update your infrastructure or core business systems and would like to speak with a professional, contact David Nelms at dnelms@warrenwhitney.com or 804.282.9566.

Turn Your Technology and Operations into a Competitive Advantage

By | Family Businesses, Technology and Operations

David Cropped

Contributor: David Nelms

Downloadable link

Technology can be your hidden competitive advantage. Warren Whitney’s Technology and Operations Practice Group outlines six fundamental recommendations below to ensure that your technology is appropriately aligned with your business strategy, operates as efficiently as possible, and is ready to support future growth. We offer a high-spot technology assessment to help you identify ways to ensure your technology is supporting and strengthening your operations.

1. Develop a technology plan that is aligned with your strategic plan.

For a variety of reasons, hardware or software technologies used by organizations become too difficult, risky, or expensive to support and maintain, or they simply do not keep up with the needs of the business. It is important for organizations to frequently assess how well their systems are positioned to support their current and long-term needs so that they can stay ahead of the curve. Just as organizations have a strategic plan for their overall business, we recommend that they have a strategic plan for their technology as well. The technology plan needs to be closely aligned with the overall business strategies and functional needs, but it also needs to consider a variety of other factors, such as information security risks, vendor stability and availability of adequate support, new capabilities available within the marketplace, and whether their systems are prepared to continue operating in the event of disasters or other external events.

2. Do not underestimate the complexity of a hardware or software conversion.

At some point, all organizations will need to upgrade or replace their software systems. Some companies will simply upgrade to a new version of their existing systems, while others may look to add new systems or move systems to the Cloud. Regardless of whether projects involve selection of a new ERP/MRP system, a move of business applications to the Cloud, or an upgrade of the version of operating systems or software used on employee desktops, the potential complexity and impact of these initiatives cannot be taken lightly or underestimated. Software conversions rarely go off without a hitch, so organizations need to be prepared to manage the efforts closely and deal with unexpected issues. From the beginning, the projects need to follow some form of structured requirements and risk management processes, and they need to utilize solid project and issues management. Organizations need to allow time for organizational change management and appropriate staff training. The extent to which all of these things need to happen will vary by project and organization, but they all need to happen. They are especially important when new software is being selected that will make dramatic change to the way key business functions are supported. Above all, before the organization makes an investment in any software change, there needs to be a clear understanding of the expected benefits and a commitment to taking a fresh look at the way internal policies, processes, or procedures may need to change to capitalize on the new investment.

3. Look for vendor relationships that provide a competitive advantage for your organization, not just an expense.

Often management feels that their vendor partners or internal technology resources are not fully aligned with the needs of the business. Conversations often reference personnel who operate reactively versus proactively or that “speak another language.” Possible solutions could include more structured vendor management programs or service levels, coaching and mentoring programs for internal staff, development of policies and procedures, or improved processes for prioritization and project management. Above all, regardless of their role in the organization, companies need knowledgeable resources who actively manage strategy, spending, and day to day efforts for all aspects of their technology systems and resources.

4. Use technology to produce information that creates business value.

Most companies seem to be fairly comfortable with the information and metrics they are currently using to manage the business. Some can get it at the click of a button, while others tell stories of their CFO, controller, or other business area resources locking themselves in an office for a week or so at the end of each month to produce the necessary information from a wide array of Excel spreadsheets. Many have heard the term “Big Data,” but they do not know what it means or how it will benefit them. Regardless of where folks are on the information delivery curve, we strongly recommend that they have a very solid understanding of where all of their information is coming from, the exact meaning and relevance of each key piece of information, how information from different sources fits together, and most importantly that they have the necessary checks and balances in place to make sure that all of the information remains accurate. Similar to our advice related to the overall technology plan, we also encourage organizations to continually evaluate additional ways that they can use information to create business value.

5. When there is a planned or unplanned change in personnel, take the opportunity to evaluate reporting structures, take a fresh look at management and staff responsibilities, and optimize organizational alignment before making a new hire.

When there are personnel changes, management is often in such a hurry to fill the hole in the organization that they just hire someone with similar skills to the last person. This is the best time to consider whether an organizational change or different skills could provide a business advantage. This is the time to consider an interim IT Director, CIO, COO – or whatever position is vacant – to evaluate and bring perspective before making the next hire.

6. Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement at all levels of the organization, and consider how technology can support it.

As businesses grow, competition increases, or other factors change, businesses continually need to adapt. This involves continually making sure that people, processes, technologies, and information are all aligned. Creating and maintaining this alignment is particularly difficult if it is just seen as the responsibility of senior management. While this need is not specific to any given technology, industry, or project, one of the most frequent recommendations that we make to all of our clients is that they do things to implement an ongoing culture of continuous improvement. Empower everyone within the organization to share ideas on how to make their individual jobs better and improve upon the products or services delivered to customers. Once this culture is established, all other initiatives have a much greater chance of success.

Warren Whitney’s Technology and Operations services can help in any of the areas above. Specifically, we:

• Take roles as CIO, IT Director, or COO. We can serve on an interim basis while you replace a full-time position or on a longer-term basis if you are a growing organization and do not yet need a full-time information leader.
• Facilitate strategic planning and technology planning.
• Develop and implement processes and procedures that strengthen your use of technology in support of operations. Often this does not entail new systems.
• Guide you in evaluating and implementing new hardware and/or software.

Please call David Nelms, Director of the Technology and Operations Practice Group, with any questions. We would welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about your organization. Contact David at DNelms@warrenwhitney.com or at (M) 804.513.6581 or (O) 804.282.9566.

Technology & Operations Services Overview

By | Family Businesses, Nonprofit, Technology and Operations

Organizations need efficient business processes and robust technologies to remain competitive. Warren Whitney provides a variety of fractional and project based management services to help businesses improve operational efficiency, adapt to industry changes, and prepare for continued growth. Our professionals typically assist clients with strategic needs, but we can also roll up our sleeves and help drive tactics once the strategies are in place. Examples of services we provide are:

Leadership

  • Leadership assistance during transition or loss
  • Fractional CIO/COO leadership services

Strategy and Planning

  • Organizational assessment and design
  • Technology SWOT evaluations and long range planning
  • Governance, risk management, and policy definition
  • M&A readiness assessments and post transaction assistance
  • Management reporting, KPIs, and executive dashboards
  • Turnaround planning

Management and Consulting

  • Management of internal and external resources
  • Staff mentoring and management development
  • Large project oversight and management
  • Expense evaluation and stabilization
  • RFP and systems/vendor selection processes
  • System conversion, integration, and migration planning
  • Information management and reporting
  • Process evaluation and optimization
  • Vendor review and service quality management
  • Resource needs definition and sourcing

All our professionals have significant management and leadership experience in a wide variety of industries. We have a proven ability to “right size” solutions that can help you address your most complex needs.

Please contact David Nelms at 804-282-9566 to discuss ways we can help you address any issues and improve your business performance.

Technology Is The Easy Part, or It Should Be…

By | Family Businesses, Technology and Operations

David Cropped

Contributor: David Nelms

Link to Downloadable Article

The following is a paraphrase of conversations I’ve had with several business owners and CFO’s recently. Does some or all of this apply to you and your business?

“My business is growing. The software we use is outdated, and the vendor we use doesn’t support it well anymore. We use a lot of Excel spreadsheets, but they are increasingly difficult to keep up with and are causing us a lot of problems. I’m having a hard time getting the information I need to manage the business. I know I need better tools and a more current system, but I don’t know where to start or how to find what we need. What do I do?“

This is not an unusual situation, but my response to each of the folks I spoke with may not be what you expect. It has nothing to do with a cool way to do an internet search for software. The response I generally give is that the actual technology is the easy part. The more challenging part relates to making sure we have an appropriate foundation for the discussion before we go down the path of thinking about a potentially large technology investment that could have major implications to the business. We need to make sure the organization is committed and prepared for change, and that they have a fairly clear understanding of what’s actually needed before they even start thinking about specific technologies or solutions.

Assuming you really do need to pursue an overhaul of some or all of your key software systems, or if you simply think you might, the following are a couple of general things to consider as you think about getting started with an undertaking of this nature:

• Make sure you have a solid medium to long range plan for your business.

Systems need to support the business. They are all about improving processes and providing information. They can help ensure best practices are followed in some areas, but they shouldn’t completely define how the business should operate. New systems are often major, expensive, capital investments. As with any capital investments, you want to make sure you know where you are headed before making them. Make sure you have clearly defined business strategies and specific goals. If you have specific goals, you will be in a better position to evaluate whether a certain system will help you achieve these goals as you work through the process.

• Identify your current issues and anticipated future needs before you start thinking too much about the systems. Otherwise, if you start by simply looking at systems you might be drawn to the “sparkly,” expensive solutions that are not a good fit or are more than you really need.

This is often harder than it sounds. It requires a clear understanding of how the business operates coupled with a lot of objectivity. Before making a major investment in new systems, you need to understand the business processes you want the systems to support. You also need to be willing to challenge the status quo. Don’t assume you need to keep doing everything the way you have in the past. Use this potential project as an opportunity to revise obsolete polices and adopt new, best practice processes whenever it makes sense. Understand the things you currently do well and need to continue doing, and identify the pain points you need to address. When you are working to understand these needs, make sure you get input from people at all levels of the organization, as well as external customers, if applicable. Don’t just rely on input from managers who may be slightly out of touch with day to day needs. Make sure you try to understand the scope of future changes that will be needed to support the goals you have established. As you work through defining all these needs and requirements, document and prioritize them. Be prepared to separate wants from needs.

• Understand the information and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you need to have to manage the business effectively.

In short, if you don’t understand the types of information you need to run the business, or will need to run the business as you grow, you won’t be able to tell if the systems will be able to support you.

• Make sure company leadership is truly prepared to “make an investment” versus thinking they will just be “incurring an additional cost” before you get started.

Investments help enable growth and efficiency. It is premature to assume you have full buy in on the overall expenses associated with a software replacement project until you know what they are. However, if a major change of this nature is not viewed as a potential investment from the start, you should really question whether you are ready to start the discussion. If it is simply viewed as an “additional cost” from the inception of the conversation, this will often lead to a process and decision based primarily on price versus functional fit. This in turn, generally leads to a failed project.

• Think about your organization’s capacity for change and make sure you have the management team’s buy in for a fairly major change to both systems and processes within affected departments.

Before you even get started with a major software replacement project, regardless of the potential cost, make sure the organization is prepared to make a significant change. Significant change always involves challenges. Some challenges can be anticipated; some can’t. Make sure you are prepared to avoid expected challenges and address unexpected challenges as they arise.

• Be prepared to manage this effort as a project.

Make sure it is considered a strategic priority for everyone involved. Document critical information. Be prepared to communicate frequently and effectively to all stakeholders. Don’t assume anything. Establish schedules and stick to them. Commit to provide necessary training.

Again, these are just a few high level things to be thinking about as you consider making a significant change to any critical systems used to support your business. There are many other more detailed steps and structured processes that need to be followed as an initiative of this nature progresses. Having someone with experience going through this process is invaluable and unbiased facilitation of many of the discussions is generally critical. Some companies are prepared to manage these efforts internally, but most others need help. If you suspect you may need help, you probably do. If you do, get it. The investment will be worth it. Don’t skimp on the up front preparation or you will typically regret it down the road.

If you’d like to discuss concerns or issues related to your technology and how it supports your business, please feel free to call or email me.

 

Warren Whitney Announces Merger

By | Technology and Operations

CONVERGENT BUSINESS SOLUTIONS MERGES WITH WARREN WHITNEY

 

Richmond, VA – Through a merger with Convergent Business Solutions (CBS), Warren Whitney has expanded its practice areas to include Technology consulting services.  David Nelms, owner of CBS, will lead the Technology practice.

Since 2009, CBS has provided information technology consulting and contract Chief Information Officer and Chief Operating Officer services for mid-sized organizations.  The firm focuses on higher-level strategy that integrates technology and operations within the business thereby improving operating decision-making and efficiency.

Warren Whitney pioneered the concept of as-needed senior-level leadership.  For more than 26 years the firm has served privately held and nonprofit organizations in the areas of finance and accounting, human resources, and sales and marketing.   Strategic planning, board governance and executive searches are available to clients on a consulting project basis.

According to Scott Warren, co-founder of Warren Whitney, “David has built his technology firm in a model that parallels Warren Whitney’s.  We have collaborated with him on a number of clients that require technology and operations strategy.  Our professionals often work across practice areas informally to address clients’ needs quickly and efficiently.  By joining forces, we will be able to do this for their technology and operations needs as well.”

Larry Gumprich, Chief Financial Officer for Integrated Global Services says, “Warren Whitney and CBS have worked seamlessly as a team for us for the last 7 months on an important revamping of our information systems.  The merger comes as no surprise.”

David Nelms adds, “I am excited for Convergent Business Solutions to be teaming up with Warren Whitney.  Both firms work with mid-sized organizations to help them address critical business challenges.  Our new alignment allows us to address all aspects of an organization’s needs.”

 

 

View the Richmond Times-Dispatch Article