Didn’t We Just Do This Last Year?

A little more than a year ago, TAC went live with a new website. The reason for the update then was to give the site a fresh new look, a “digital coat of paint” so to speak. We also wanted to incorporate a blog and other new features to make navigation easier as well as showcase some new services that we brought online.

Well, now we’ve gone and done it again; we just went live with a brand new website.

This time it’s more than just a simple “refresh”. The latest iteration of the TAC website is really a totally new-from-the-ground-up website. In addition to further simplifying both our message and our navigation, we’ve added:

  • native search
  • mobile accessibility
  • a blog archive and categorized blog posts
  • a new podcast page (more on podcasting in a future post)
  • access to TACwizard, a revolutionary way to access our private network of some of the worlds best IT practitioners
  • the ability to easily follow us for updates and new posts

I invite you to come and take a look at the latest and greatest TAC website, still at www.tacadvisory.com. We hope you like what you see (and if you don’t, please contact us and let us know). Come back often to take advantage of our constantly changing library of case studies, blogs, podcasts, and other content. And, as always, we welcome your comments.

Regards,

Michael D. Greene
Vice President, Sales and Marketing
TAC (The Advisory Council)

How IT Advisory Services Should Work

Designed as a stand-alone, on-demand advisory service for the occasional user, the TACwizard has no seat licenses, no restrictions on the use of information internally, and no strings attached.

tacwizardOn Tuesday, March 10, at 8:30 AM EDT, a new type of IT advisory service launches. TAC (The Advisory Council) has been changing the way IT advisory services work for well over a decade, first by building one of the world’s largest private networks of vetted expert IT practitioners, then by introducing Expertise-as-a-Service® (EaaS™) . TAC now introduces the world to the TACwizard.

You may have seen a number of articles and endless tweets referring to this launch. It’s a concept and service we’re really proud of, because it completely changes the way IT advisory services are delivered.

Traditionally, IT advisory services have been delivered in the form of white paper research compiled by analysts. Written for large enterprises, and sometimes “sponsored” by vendors, the advice is difficult if not impossible to scale to smaller enterprises and midmarket companies. TAC changed the game when it built a network of hundreds of expert practitioners and gave clients the ability to leverage this network through phone consultations and documents custom-written in the client’s context. Further, TAC did away with seat licenses and restrictions on information sharing within the client organization, reducing the cost and increasing the quality and value of IT advisory services.

Over the years, TAC has added a number of other services leveraging the same expert practitioner network. These EaaS™ offerings bring a level of quality to smaller IT departments that were once only available to large enterprises.

The TACwizard is the latest in these offerings. Designed as a stand-alone, on-demand advisory service for the occasional user, the TACwizard has no seat licenses, no restrictions on the use of information internally, and no strings attached. A user simply creates a free account and asks their tactical, strategic, functional or operational IT question to the TACwizard. A few days later they receive a response to their question (a mini-bio of the expert that answered the question is also included with the response).

That’s it.

We hope you’ll take a look and give it a try. We believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of information, the ease of use, and the speed of the responses to the questions you ask.

You can follow the countdown at the TACwizard website, and if you have any questions, please contact us.

Regards,

Mike Greene
Vice President
TAC

Why Some Advisory Companies Are Really “Just Guessing”

Everyone likes to be asked for advice. In fact many companies have made a good living by giving advice. But have you ever noticed that these same companies always wrap their research in “safe harbor” statements? Ever wonder why?

Everyone likes to be asked for advice. In fact many companies have made a good living by giving advice. But have you ever noticed that these same companies always wrap their research in “safe harbor” statements? Ever wonder why?

They look into the crystal ball but they won’t eat the glass

Traditional advisory services companies are not really advisory companies; they are research companies. They don’t really give advice; they provide “forward-looking information” based on research and the past performance of clients and other companies. Anyone who has ever read safe harbor statements has seen the phrase “past performance does not guarantee future results”, yet it is exactly these predictions based on past performance that enterprises rely on to make decisions. Granted, we’re not talking about throwing darts blindfolded in the general direction of the dart board, hoping to hit a bull’s-eye, but in an era of rapid growth of disruptive technologies, predictions (essentially educated guesses) made by advisory services companies are becoming less reliable and “sponsored research” is becoming more prevalent, so the “guidance” from these companies is becoming more biased and less valuable. Traditional advisory services continually hide inaccuracies behind “revised estimates”, essentially saying, “We guessed wrong on that one folks, but now we’ve got it right… until the next revision”.

To get good guidance, get a good guide.

A map (research) may show you the place you need to get to and possible paths to get there, but a good guide is needed to get you there the fastest and safest way possible, and to let you know what to do once you get there. Most companies already understand the need to make the trip, and most “advisory/research” companies just supply more “maps”. What most enterprises really need is not seat licensed advisory services that provides research, but good guides; individuals that know the territory, people who have already been there and back and know the path around the problems.

TAC understands that it’s a guide that you’re looking for; we call them Expert Practitioners, and TAC has hundreds of them, working in IT for an average of 20 years. These experts truly guide clients around the mishaps, pitfalls, and dead ends that others face; they can do that because they have been there and done that and know where the hidden dangers are.

TAC has created two unique ways to get the guidance you need:

  • EaaS Advisory Services – Client companies and individuals get access to TAC’s network of expert practitioners through moderated “Expert Phone Consultations” and custom written “Personal Advisory Reports”. This no-seat-license, retainer-based model brings everyone in the enterprise to the table. You pay a retainer based on only the number of deliverables you choose to consume, you grant access to those in your company that need it, and you share information freely throughout your enterprise.
  • TACwizard (launching March 10, 2015 – www.tacwizard.com) – With this pay-as-you-go option, the occasional IT advisory services user gets full access to the power of one of the world’s largest vetted expert networks. Users ask their own questions and receive answers custom written by an expert practitioner.

Contact TAC to find out more about how you can leverage one of the world’s largest vetted private networks of expert IT practitioners.

What I Learned about Advisory Services from an “All You Can Eat” Buffet

I don’t know about you, but I’d like my advisory service to be more like a fine dining experience rather than the all-you-can-eat buffet. I prefer to sit down and be served exactly what I want instead of wandering around with the hopes of finding something that may satisfy me.

Years ago, when we would go to visit my mother-in-law, we’d offer to take her anywhere in town she’d like to go for dinner. As it turned out, her favorite place to go was the local Chinese all-you-can-eat-buffet. This is not to say that she was a big eater; she wasn’t. She liked the idea that just by each of us walking in and paying a fixed price, we could have, without waiting for service, anything they served and as much of it as we wanted, even if the amount that we wanted wasn’t all that much. But since my kids were older and liked to eat (both are very athletic and burn calories like crazy), we usually ate at least our money’s worth, sometimes more.

“All you can eat” buffets like this make money because:

  • Few people eat a quantity of food greater than what it costs the buffet to serve it.
  • People are selective – not everyone eats everything.
  • Few if any people will sit there all day eating. When you leave, you’re done.
  • Nothing is cooked to order. What you see is what you get.
  • No “doggie bags”. You can’t take any food home with you to share with others.

Traditional advisory services use a very similar business model. Access is a fixed fee for each user, and once “inside”, the user has “all-you-can-eat” access to a whitepaper library.

Traditional advisory services make money because:

  • Since a whitepaper only needs to be written once and can be used many times, members can’t possibly consume more than it costs the service provider to “serve”.
  • People are selective in the information they need – Not everyone reads everything.
  • These expensive subscriptions expire. When they do, access is denied.
  • Nothing is done to order. What you see is what you get (unless you pay a premium).
  • No “doggie bags”. You can’t share the information with others that are not subscribed.

For the service provider, this is a great model. It allows them to sell high-priced services with the expectation that they’ll have customers like my mother-in-law… customers that consume less of the service than they paid for. This means that for the high seat license fee, the value drops quickly with services that go unused.

So what can you do to make sure that you get proper value for your advisory spend?

Look for advisory services that:

  • Allow you to pay for only what you want/need
  • Do not require subscriptions
  • Do not use seat licenses
  • Allow information sharing
  • Give targeted answers to what you ask, not answers to questions they think you should be asking

I don’t know about you, but I’d like my advisory service to be more like a fine dining experience rather than the all-you-can-eat buffet. I prefer to sit down and be served exactly what I want instead of wandering around with the hopes of finding something that may satisfy me.

We at TAC understand that you don’t want to pay for what you’re not going to use. So to give clients a more value-centric IT advisory service, TAC has created two unique service options:

  • EaaS Advisory Services – Client companies and individuals get access to TAC’s network of expert practitioners through moderated “Expert Phone Consultations” and custom written “Personal Advisory Reports”. This no-seat-license, retainer-based model brings everyone in the enterprise to the table. You pay a retainer based on only the number of deliverables you choose to consume, you grant access to those in your company that need it, and you share information freely throughout your enterprise.
  • TACwizard (launching March 10, 2015 – www.tacwizard.com) – With this pay-as-you-go option, the occasional IT advisory services user gets full access to the power of one of the world’s largest vetted expert networks. Users ask their own questions and receive answers custom written by an expert practitioner.

Contact TAC to find out more about how you can leverage one of the world’s largest vetted private networks of expert IT practitioners.

Six Easy Ways to Get More Done in Less Time

We still have only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and to-do lists that continue to grow. Large companies get around many time limitations by buying more time in the form of employee man-hours, but not all of us can afford to do this.

We made it to the new year, but some things never change. We still have only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and to-do lists that continue to grow. Large companies get around many time limitations by buying more time in the form of employee man-hours, but not all of us can afford to do this. It becomes important, therefore, to get more done in the hours one has. This means using time more efficiently and minimizing distractions. Here are six easy tips that will help you accomplish this:

  1. Don’t let emails and texts become a distraction – it takes between 10 and 15 minutes to get back on task after an interruption. Shut off the notifications on your laptop, tablet, and smart phone that warn you that emails or texts have come in. Then check and respond to your emails and texts only a few times a day, like first thing in the morning, noon, and 4:00 PM. Give yourself a half hour (or other appropriate amount of time) to respond to the emails and texts
  2. Don’t answer the phone unless you really have to… Or it’s a customer – the same rules apply here as they do to emails and texts. The only difference is that you have to be aware of providing the best customer service you can, and that may mean answering the phone for customers and clients. Again, check voice-mails only a few times a day and respond as necessary.
  3. Tie your to-do list to your calendar – Most of us have a to-do list, and that list seems to get longer, not shorter, as time goes on. We then have trouble prioritizing and reshuffling the tasks and fewer and fewer of them get done. Part of the problem lies with due dates of “soon”, “sometime next week”, and “ASAP”. Since these are abstract ideas of time, the human brain doesn’t process them the same way as a hard due date. By putting tasks on your calendar with blocks of time to accomplish them, just as you would set an appointment, you automatically prioritize the tasks and reserve the proper amount of time to get that task done. Make sure that if the task is more than a few days out, you set periodic reminders for yourself.
  4. Delegate wherever and whenever possible –Much of the time we find ourselves doing things ourselves that we can delegate to others, freeing up our valuable time for those things we can’t delegate. Make sure that when you delegate a task, you assign it in writing with a due date, and if the due date is more than a few days out, make sure you get periodic status reports. Most CRMs (Customer Relationship Management systems) allow you to assign tasks to others. If you don’t have a CRM, do it on a shared calendar.
  5. Share your calendar – It’s important that others on your team know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it so they know when not to disturb you. By calendaring tasks (above) and sharing that calendar, you indicate the times you are busy, removing in-office distractions.
  6. Access Expertise-as-a-Service when and where needed – by using experts to get the information you need in the proper context, you shorten the amount of time needed to make mission-critical decisions, freeing up time to do other important tasks.

Try these tips for 60 days. Why 60? Because it will take you at least 30 days to break the habits of looking at your smart phone 50-100 times a day and keeping your email folders open. After using these methods for a few months, I think you’ll find that it’s easier to get more things done faster, with less aggravation and better results.

Have you tried any of these tips before? how did they work for you? What advice do you have to use time efficiently? Please comment to let us know.

Rabbit Season, Duck Season, Budget Season

Reevaluating services and looking for options is always a good idea. It keeps you up-to-date on new technologies, new services, and new engagement models that could reduce your need (and cost) for some services and replace them with lower-cost, higher-value ones.

In the confluence of seasons, deadlines, holidays and budget cycles, little things can make a huge difference.

One of my favorite cartoons growing up was Bugs Bunny, and one of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons was (and still is) “Rabbit Seasoning”, written in 1952 by Chuck Jones and voiced by the immortal Mel Blanc. In this cartoon, Daffy Duck tries to get Elmer Fudd to shoot Bugs (as usual), which backfires on Daffy (pun intended), multiple times. The difference between getting shot and not getting shot is the strategic use of pronouns. You can watch a clip of the cartoon here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6e1hZGDaqIw?version=3&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent]

The takeaway is that doing something small, (like changing a pronoun) can have a drastic impact on outcomes.

This time of year is full of decisions: personal, professional and business. Budgets need to be both reconciled and projected, new services acquired, and old ones reexamined for the coming year. The leaders of organizations find themselves in one of two equally stressful positions, possibly both: either they have money left in the budget that they have not spent yet, or they’ve been given the same budget as last year and have greater demands for the coming year.

So, you have money left in last year’s budget? Good for you!

You’ve worked hard this last year to save what you could, and now you are reaping the rewards… tough decisions about where to allocate remaining budget dollars from this year. You are likely asking yourself and your trusted advisors, “what can we invest in now to make our lives easier in 2015?”

Stuck with Last Year’s Budget for Next Year’s Demands?

You’ve been hit with the second edge of that double-edged sword. You got through the year on the budget you were allocated, and maybe had a little left over, so now “the powers-that-be” want you to do it all over again, but with bigger demands than last year’s. That’s going to mean reevaluating and possibly replacing expensive outside services with lower-cost ones.

Compromise? Nope.

Reevaluating services and looking for options is always a good idea. It keeps you up-to-date on new technologies, new services, and new engagement models that could reduce your need (and cost) for some services and replace them with lower-cost, higher-value ones. For instance, now is the perfect time to investigate our Advisory Services, personalized, in-context, actionable advice and information with truly unique deliverables, and TAC Insights, a semi-monthly information and intelligence report on current IT trends and topics. Both are a low-cost, high-value services designed to make your life easier now and in 2015 – with satisfaction guaranteed.

We know we’re not the only ones out there, but we are the only ones out there that do what we do, the way we do it. In a new year with new challenges, better decision-making, productivity and collaboration can make all the difference to you and your team. A small change with a dramatic impact? That’s TAC. You really do owe it to yourself to make your life easier in the new year. Let us know how we can help and we’ll get it done.

Oh, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Why You Should Rethink Making That New Software Purchase

Investing in new software to resolve an issue within businesses is a common but often misguided solution, since many times the required functionality already exists within the business’s software portfolio or is available at some level for free on the Internet.

Investing in new software to resolve an issue within businesses is a common but often misguided solution, since many times the required functionality already exists within the business’s software portfolio or is available at some level for free on the Internet.

An investment in software always deserves a lot of thought. Even SaaS (Software as a Service – internet-based software accessed through a browser) software can be expensive for the enterprise, and comparatively more so for the small business. So how can a business determine if and when it’s time to commit to spending the money?

Look at the software you already have. You’d be surprised at the amount of functionality you have in the software you already own/lease that you’re not using (or not using properly). By some estimates, a full 75-80% of the functionality engineered into some software goes unused. The reason for this is that software is usually purchased to solve one immediate problem, and, once solved, the user goes no further in learning about other features/functionality of that software. As a business grows, other needs arise and, since the previous software wasn’t purchased to solve the current problem, little or no thought is given to investigating the unused features of that software. In addition, software is constantly updated, and the functionality you are looking for may have been added since you made the original purchase.

Is there freeware/shareware that will solve your problem? For the larger businesses, enterprise-class open source software is a very real option these days. Almost every type of business productivity tool is available for free online either for a trial period or for an unlimited time for a small group of users – usually with some limitations. Available on most platforms, this type of software is great for small groups looking to “kick the tires” on new functionality within the enterprise without any financial outlay for software acquisition. Cost usually enters in only when customization and support are needed from the software vendor.

Small businesses need to keep in mind that nothing on the internet is really free (you may not pay with cash but you pay with your eyeballs or data instead – banner ads on the screens you’re using, sharing personal and/or business data with the vendor). However, there is a wide range of productivity tools and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software that you can use with no immediate financial outlay.  Software companies give free access to their software for individuals and small groups with the idea that as your business grows, you’ll pay to expand your use and the functions you need. Using freeware/shareware even for a limited time, gives you the opportunity to evaluate various options and to determine whether you really need to make the investment in time and money. Keep in mind any regulations, like HIPAA, when dealing with personally identifiable information and financial/health records.

Examine the business case and timing of the purchase. Will the purchase, training, and ultimately the use of the software increase sales and/or reduce cost? What are you currently spending (in person hours) to accomplish what the software will automate, and how much less time will it take after implementation? If this functionality is new to the business, what is the expected ROI (return on investment) and when will it be realized? Only once all of those questions have been answered to support the business case does timing come into play. Budget is usually the biggest factor for putting off a purchase, but one also needs to look to see if an imminent major release for this software is scheduled. If so, it may pay to wait until that new release comes out.

The Takeaway:

There are almost as many criteria for selecting software as there are software packages available for use. The key for the business is to leverage what you already have for the new needs of the business, and find adequate free or low-cost solutions online (again keeping in mind security concerns/regulations) that will serve the immediate need. This way you get what you really need without incurring additional cost. As your business continues to grow and you’re in a better financial position or have a bigger budget, you may feel the need to upgrade to pay versions of freeware or transition to software that meets the new needs of your bigger business. In the meantime, you’ll know that you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of the investments you’ve already made.

What existing unused features did you find in the software you already have, before you went out and purchased the same features from another vendor? do you use freeware/shareware? if so, what are you using and how? We’d like to hear it from you.

When Information About a Virus Goes… um, Viral

Be very careful about the information you rely on from outside sources. Your sources should be subject matter experts, people with many years of experience in the field in which they are speaking about.

There has been a lot of media attention about Ebola of late, and it illustrates very well the problems associated with getting reliable information from the Internet.

First, let me state that I know that Ebola is a terrible, painful disease with no cure. I know how it is spread, what the symptoms are, the likelihood of survival, the incubation period, and many other facts about it. Almost everyone in the US has this information as well. The trouble sneaks in where different groups (or individuals) try to sensationalize the story to get ratings and clicks, and to subvert the information (or create misinformation) to push their own agendas.

Some examples:

  • A number of “leaders” in the US government tell us that Ebola is going to sneak into the US through a porous Mexican border. They neglect to tell us, however, that there has never been a reported case of Ebola in Mexico. This story has gone viral.
  • Numerous shares on social media that “the oral thermometers being used at the International arrivals terminals across the US are inaccurate and easily fooled by drinking a cold beverage.” Another story that is completely false (they’re using highly accurate infrared “no-touch” thermometers) and highly viral.
  • The “twitterverse” generates hundreds of tweets a minute about Ebola, many of them sensationalist.

With all the information out there, how do you know what is good information and what is not? Here are some suggestions:

  • The sniff test – If something smells fishy about the story or just doesn’t seem right or rational, trust your instinct. It probably isn’t right.
  • The level test – determine if the information seems slanted or biased in order to make a point or push a seemingly unrelated issue. If it’s biased, then reliability is questionable.
  • The source test – look at the source of the article. If the source is not usually an expert on the topic being discussed (e.g, the Centers for Disease Control vs. a political party discussing a life threatening disease) it is likely unreliable.

The examples above don’t just apply to Ebola, they apply to almost everything you’re looking for online. Product reviews have been known to be written by the very people who are selling the product; information (or misinformation) is posted to influence behavior, and stories (and headlines) are created to increase traffic to websites.

The takeaway

Be very careful about the information you rely on from outside sources. Your sources should be subject matter experts, people with many years of experience in the field in which they are speaking about. They should have no hidden (or unhidden) agendas. They should be unbiased, able to deliver the information in a manner which is best for you, not necessarily best for them.

Having a hypercritical eye when gathering important information on the Internet is the only real safe way to protect yourself from viral misinformation.

Tell us about your latest run-in with viral misinformation. We’d like to hear about it too

Is the Information You Get the Right-For-You Information?

There’s a lot of information floating around on the Internet. Some of it is good, but a lot of it is bad. And to make matters worse, a lot of the information may look good and be  good, but may not be the right information for you.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Much of the information on the Internet is written by (or commissioned by) vendors and is aimed at and written for Fortune 1000 companies. These companies have vast IT departments and large budgets. They can afford to buy in-context information and hire the full-time personnel with the experience and expertise they need.

But what if you’re not a Fortune 1000 company? What if your IT department is small and maybe even understaffed? Or has a tiny budget or a budget that gets smaller and smaller every year (but the business expects more from you)? Or you’re a government agency or not-for-profit, and have to ‘play by different rules’? How do you get the information and services you need, in context and scaled to fit your circumstances?

As an example, TAC was flooded with questions from clients surrounding iPad adoption in the enterprise (and SMB space) when they first came out. Many clients asked identical questions but were at times given vastly different answers. Why? Because the answer given to a Fortune 500 company could in no way be scaled down to a small or medium-sized business, and conversely, an answer for an SMB may be inefficient and costly if scaled to enterprise sizes.

Answers require more than facts, they require context. and that’s the difference between the right information and the right-for-you information.

Have you ever gotten the right information only to find out that is wasn’t the right-for-you information? We’d like to hear about it.

Do You Know the Difference Between an Analyst and an Expert?

Which should you consult for advice, an analyst or an expert practitioner? It depends on the information you are looking to get.

A number of winters ago, my son decided that he wanted to try snowboarding. As an avid skier, I was pleased that he wanted to learn (so I thought) how to snowboard. I told him that I would set up a trip to a nearby ski resort, and since he had never been snowboarding before, I would arrange to get him lessons with one of the pros there. His response was completely unexpected. He refused the lessons saying, “I don’t need lessons, I’ve already read everything I could find about how to snowboard and watched probably a hundred videos about how to do it.”

We went to the mountain, where he refused lessons a second time, rented him the necessary equipment, and shuffled off to the ‘bunny slope’. As a skier, I could offer no instruction, as the two sports are considerably different when it comes to technique. Needless to say, with no real snowboarding experience, he had a miserable time, and I had a miserable time watching him be miserable. He was on the slope for an hour, more or less when he decided to call it quits. I asked him if he wanted lessons at that point, and he said he was too tired to take lessons, but he should have started with them. We spent the rest of the day watching other snowboarders and skiers from the comfort of the lodge.

We both learned lessons that day, although they weren’t the intended ones. His snowboarding experience strongly illustrated the difference between an analyst and an expert practitioner.

Analysts know a lot about a particular subject. They have researched and read about a particular subject, and may also have written on the topic. However, they may have no real experience in doing what they read and write about. All of their knowledge comes not from doing, but from looking at the past work of others. That is not to say that analysts don’t have value. They can tell you what is currently happening in a particular subject matter area and they can spot trends. Many even try to predict what will happen in the future, though, like a weatherman, their predictions are inaccurate at best.

Expert practitioners, on the other hand, actually work in a particular subject matter area. They not only know a lot about a particular subject, they learn by experience. They therefore have a more intimate knowledge of the subject matter. Because of their experience, they can provide better insights and advice that is contextual and actionable. They not only spot trends, but help to create them. Better than anyone, they can tell you the state-of-the-art in their area of expertise because they work with it on a daily basis.

So, which should you consult for advice, an analyst or an expert practitioner? It depends on the information you are looking to get. If you are looking for trends and ‘forward looking statements’ (predictions), then maybe an analyst can give you what you want, but probably not in the context in which you want it. If you’re looking for a way to solve a problem, in-depth information about a particular subject in a particular context, a ‘reality check’, or actionable advice, go with the expert practitioner.