Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Microsoft is Stupid part 2

So you've probably heard me rant about Microsoft and their crazy antiquated partner unfriendly systems before.  Bear with me for another one.  Here's an analogy. Let's say you bought a new car.  You spent like $50,000 on this cool new car (real $$ analogy here). But the car arrived and there was a ding in the hubcap. Nothing major just needs a replacement wheel cover. So you take it to the dealer and say - hey if it's not too much trouble could you swap out the wheel cover? This one's defective. What if the dealer's response was - nope. Can't do that. If you like though we can take the car back, refund your money, cancel your loan, issue you a new car which will take 48 to 96 hours, and then you can arrange for payment all over again.  Oh and no we can't loan you a car to use in the meantime, you'll have to wait here at the dealership.

So here's where the analogy fits in. I order Microsoft Open licenses all the time - it's a royal pain in the ass because there are two emails on them that MUST be right. If they're not right things get messed up. One is the client's email - which MUST be a client account with a Microsoft Account attached to it.  The other is the PARTNER email (my email) which must be correct so I can administer it, download ISOs, etc.  If either are wrong you know the only way to fix it.  See above. You have to cancel the order, refund the money, reissue the order with the right info on it, and re-pay for the order. If the order was originally done on a credit card you must refund the credit card and then re-bill the credit card.  AND they ding you at the distributor for returns - over a certain number and they start giving you penalties every time you do one.  This last time I said - screw it, I'm going to let the dude who is the Microsoft rep at my distributer place the order so it doesn't get screwed up. Because it's a big, important order that is time critical.  He places 2 orders, both with my email as the partner contact.  They have EXACTLY the same contact info on them. One is attached to me. The other gets attached to my BOOKKEEPER'S ACCOUNT! WTF. She doesn't even have an account. As usual even though this is just a field in a database no one can actually fix that without reissuing the licenses. I'm not going to do that.  So I guess I'll be creating an account under HER credentials so I can transfer rights to MY credentials because Microsoft can't program their way out of a paper bag.

So what's the final lesson for my entrepreneurial readers?  Design your systems so that simple errors can be fixed easily.  Make it so that a user can fix a mistaken email, or other data point quickly and easily without any trouble, and never even needs to call a rep to have it repaired. Because that way you avoid BOTH the rant above and the inevitable additional bad press and bad customer service reputation that companies like Microsoft have.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Microsoft Is Stupid

Dear Microsoft Office 365. This is a bug in your admin interface in Office365. It prevents administrators from changing to be able to implement preview features. I've reproduced this bug for your India based support engineers using a screen share and using your screenshot scripting tool like 3 times. I am not your QA staff. Go fix your own damn code. This bug is easily reproducible - turn on DEBUG mode in your own browser, browse to the Update Services page and click the link - the button appears to update but there is no way to save the settings, and if you exit and return the settings are back to where they started from. It's NOT MY PROBLEM TO DOCUMENT IT FOR YOU!  Fix it and stop trying to make it the customer's fault that you can't QA your own code.

_eReleaseTrackSettings.aspx is the file. The line number is any line wih the code function "showCorrectDialog". The error is that the function is undefined, probably because of something stupid like you didn't syntax check the code before releasing it to production or you forgot to link in a library. In any case that's ALL THE DEBUGGING I AM DOING FOR YOU.

So far I have done the following:
  • Reproduced the bug for an engineer using screen capture.
  • Reproduced ALL THE STEPS using PSR.EXE TWICE. 
  • I am not your QA staff. You employ foreign workers at $4/hour for that.  Use them.
  • If you'd like to hire me to do QA I charge $150/hour.  Let me know where to send my invoice.
  • In the meantime you're inconveniencing thousands of users who probably cannot figure out why they can't enable the preview mode which would allow them to download and install Office 2016 which you are spreading far and wide to download EARLY because "bonus" because Office365 user.
  • Tell me - how many users not already running the preview have you had change over to preview mode lately - I bet it is ZERO BECAUSE IT'S BROKEN
There is nothing that frustrates me more than incompetent IT support engineers who will not admit the problem is in their own code, and keep on trying to blame the end user.  They hope that I will just let them close the ticket out of frustration, and then hope the problem goes away. Except it won't go away because they won't escalate the ticket to the level needed to solve it (Development).  It's more important for them to CLOSE the ticket than SOLVE the ticket.

This problem affects every one of my customers that wants to use YOUR new product - something YOUR marketing is suggesting they try.  You are idiots not to escalate this to the highest level possible, since the first impression they have with your new software is - crap this thing is broken.  And you wonder why Windows 8 was a failure.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Are you ready for Office 2016?

Office 2016 will come chock full of new features

You can preview the new version of office here.  Office365 Business premium and professional users get it free! Here's a few new features to whet your whistle:
  • Outlook overhaul - Outlook will look more like it's web-based cousin, in addition one-drive will be integrated more fully. When you send a document you can choose to store it in OneDrive and send a link instead.
  • Real-time editing in Word - like OneNote works now, new content and edits can be applied to a document by multiple people and their changes will show up in real-time - no more locking the document out from editing when you go in.  Other documents like Excel to follow.
  • Data Loss protection features - File level encryption and the ability to support corporate DLP policies allow all Office documents to be less vulnerable to security leaks
  • Click to run features targeted at the enterprise - Administrators will be able to allow employees to install and click-to-run Office on the fly from a central install point behind their firewall, reducing network traffic.
  • Better Clutter Control - exercising the ability for Microsoft to apply big data analysis to your inbox and your activities on email, allows Microsoft to intelligently sort out the wheat from the chaff, putting important emails in your inbox, and stuff that isn't spam but isn't important in a separate clutter folder.
  • Help improvements - They moved the help to the top center of the application and made it easier to access and use.
  • Groups, Collaboration and Skype for business integration - you can now create - in outlook - groups for collaboration, conversation and status sharing and shared files and OneNotes.  this allows you to more logically manage shared storage and better update each other on the status of information in those shared stores.  You can even set up group meetings quickly with Skype for business.
  • Better menu options - some still lament the days when Microsoft removed the menu from the top of our office apps in favor of the ribbon strip. Not everyone finds the ribbon strip intuitive. Well good news! The menu is back. In keeping with the return of the start menu in Windows 10, Office 2016 will feature the return of the menu as a star attraction, with better menu integration, better file browsing to more easily support multiple file sources, and smart menus that adapt as you use the product to present the right context information depending on what you want to do.
  • Sway your audiences - Powerpoint is so old-school, and Microsoft knows it - so while keeping the old powerhouse in the library they're adding a new presentation app called Sway.  Featuring a much more free-form drag and drop presentation authoring process, Sway is like many other "break the borders" presentation platform.
To find out more about Office 2016, or to find out how you can convert your old office licenses into the new cloud based-office licensing model contact me via private message, phone or email at OS-Cubed, Inc.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Don't make the recurring revenue mistake that Microsoft, Symantec and HP are making

Every day lately it seems that partner programs that OS-Cubed and other small IT business vendors participate in are moving to partner program models that emphasize new sales over recurring revenue.  Recently HP, Symantec and Microsoft have all moved their programs over to this model. In an environment where you have one-time license sales this makes a tremendous amount of sense. In an environment with ongoing recurring revenue it's just stupid.

The big companies are reimbursing partners more for a new sale than ongoing ones, trickle off or eliminate the revenue sharing as a recurring revenue relationship ages, or de-level long-term partners who have high client loyalty over partners who have high initial sales.  I will posit here that they are applying the logic that you use for "new packaged license sales" to a recurring revenue model in an inappropriate and in the long term damaging way.  As software developers or entrepreneurs designing your new recurring revenue product - don't make the mistake that these big companies with their old-fashioned views are making.

These big vendors are pushing recurring revenue models as their preferred licensing method - that part of the formula they get. I certainly understand the desire to grow your market.  But understand that the major incentive that small resellers have for getting a recurring revenue stream is the same one you have for selling them - that is that it's constant, steady cash flow.  And cash flow is very important in a reseller environment.  It makes both the selling company and the client more stable and allows them to adjust license quantities and capabilities on-the-fly.  Because of this new model clients have the ability - at any point, on any given month, to "just say no" and switch to another vendor.  Keeping the customer happy, and satisfied at all times is what keeps those customers as customers. They can easily just change providers if they become dissatisfied, with almost zero capital investment on their part.

And who keeps them happy and satisfied? Their reseller in general - not the software vendor with their overseas based technical support, and their inadequate and out of date forum which they provide as a substitute for an actual curated and current wiki or knowledgebase. When your product screws up, the small reseller is the one that makes it so the customer never knows.  They deal with your tech support from India. They navigate your forums and separate the wheat from the chaff.  If a customer had to do that they'd fire you in a second.  Small business resellers are your face to the customer.  The end customer mostly doesn't care if the product they're using is one brand or another - it's the product that the small business IT provider told them was the best, and if that reseller changes their mind they will change in a heartbeat.

So why - in this scenario - would you not do everything you can to both reward the provider for their ongoing support and reselling of your product AND do everything you can to support the ones that do it best - small, personal companies who emphasize long term loyalty over new sales? 

I don't understand this logic, but several companies - Microsoft, Symantec and others have hopped on the bandwagon of "we will reward new sales, but your revenue for the ongoing revenue stream will decline" or worse yet  they take benefits away because despite having a large ongoing revenue stream you're not adding new customers at a breakneck pace. 

In recurring service sales ongoing revenue is everything.  You want to bring customers in and keep them there.  If someone does a new sale, the customer stays for a year and then leaves - you have lost!  Realistically you should be rewarding partners for the longevity of the relationship, not the new sales.  You should increase revenue sharing based on how long term the sale is, rather than punishing partners for not bringing in new clients at a ridiculous rate.  It takes a certain amount of time to make back the expenses of a new sale.  If on the other hand you bring in a new client and they stay for years - that's an overall win, as well as a potential to leverage that relationship for additional products and services in the future. And in the long term it's what will make your product and recurring revenue sale successful.

I am convinced that these short-sighted vendor partner moves are indicative of how successful these companies will be as long term revenue generators and ultimately as SaaS providers.  If you cut out small dealers, and emphasize new sales over overall volume and long term customer satisfaction your recurring revenue stream is destined to go from a flood to a trickle. It's quarterly tactical thinking, not long term strategic thinking. Because customers can easily choose a new provider now with zero capital investment in licensing.  And your vendor may be the one recommending it because you didn't have the vision to continue to reimburse them for recommending and supporting your product.  Recurring revenue sales are NOT the same as one time license sales. The sooner these big companies realize it the better.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Are you a victim of Google's Mobilegeddon?

Google recently released new algorithms for calculating the search rank of sites, and for those sites without a responsive design that accommodates mobile platforms it's had significant impact.  This survey of several top sites indicates that some popular but not very mobile friendly sites have lost as much as 90% of their rank when reevaluated with the new algorithm.  Sites listed has having lost more than 30% of their site rank include popular sites like tested.com, boxofficemojo.com, thinkexist.com and walmartstores.com.  Sites that went up in rank include tvtropes.org, foreignaffairs.com, knowyourmeme.com and many others.   Some sites (like newmexicocriminallaw.com) increased their site ranking by over 4000%!

Note that Google's new algorithm will drop your site ranking even if the person searching for you is on a desktop.  It may drop it even more if they're searching for you on a mobile device.

Many web consumers, and particularly the heaviest web consumers, today have smartphones and tablet devices, and research shows they're now doing an average of 40% of their browsing on those tools.  It only makes sense to have a site that displays attractively on both desktop and mobile platforms.  Fortunately for users of CMSs like DotNetNuke you can simply re-skin your site, and maybe move some content around and get a responsive site up quickly and effectively.  Sites that were once flat with non-mobile friendly menus can be converted quickly and usually inexpensively to sites that look like this.

So bring up YOUR site on your phone or tablet. Is it hard to read and navigate?  Or try Google's mobile friendly test to see how your site fares. Might be time for an update. If so contact us to get a quote. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

5 Key Features of 2015 Best of the Web Winners

How does your site measure up versus the best of the web?

Each year Rochester Business Journal publishes it's Best of the Web awards - for top performing and designed sites in the Rochester area.  They publish a summary of all the nominees and give some detail into what went into these sites. In this article I will look at some of the objective results from those statistics.

I hear all the time from customers "I want my website to be the best", or "I want it ranked at the top of the search engines" or "I want tons of hits".  But how do you know if your site measures up? What are reasonable results for your efforts?  What should you expect to spend to get those results?

One way to look at it is to base your evaluation and investment on what the best in the industry have done.  So let's examine some results we can glean from the Best of the Web article in 2015.

Let's start with average age since last overhaul.  Best of the web nominees ranged from 6.25 to .17 years age since last overhaul - but here's the kicker - the overall average for all nominees was just 1.15 years. That's right - the very best were overhauling their sites pretty frequently.  There are great reasons for this - chief among them is that web technology changes frequently.  New browsers and platforms are released yearly or even monthly.  Sites have to adapt to different screen sizes and experiences as mobile makes a huge inroad. The most frequently cited overhaul reason was to adapt to a responsive design that would work on either a phone, a tablet or a desktop.  That's one example of a changing environment but we can find so many more, from new web technologies to offering more sophisticated interactive experiences.  The lesson learned here is that building a website is an ongoing process - not a one time project.

The next statistic we'll look at is number of hits per month. The site with the least number of hits was 150 per month, and the site with the most was over 2.5 million.  Obviously this means that the overall number can vary widely, but the average among all the sites (barring the one outlier of 2.5 million) was well over 77,000 hits per month.  If we put the outlier back in it's over 150k.  In any case it means that sites that performed well were achieving numbers well over 50,000 hits per month.

So what about initial development cost?  How much should you invest if you want to build a best of the web nominated site.  Again, there was a wide range of costs from $2,500 to $80,000.  Many of the larger sites didn't publish cost to produce - frequently because their site was developed internally and they didn't track it. For those site though they frequently listed staffing levels of well over 10 people to build the site and maintain it.  The average cost for those reporting for initial development was $25,128.  The way websites are developed, and the way companies think about their costs, this may be less than accurate.  The reason is they frequently think of their own resources as "free", where in fact they do have a cost, and more importantly they're probably thinking only of the last overhaul, rather than the total cost of ownership (TCO) of all website development to date. But let's say that this is representative of major website project costs - even if not TCO.  How's your budget for web development?  Close to that?  If not you may not be getting what you want.

Next comes ongoing maintenance costs.  Good websites are constantly updated and  maintained, the minimum cost was zero (I find that hard to believe - they probably have internal staff maintaining the site and aren't counting those costs) and $50,000.  That's right - some of the large sites pay as much as $50,000 per year to maintain their site!  The average expenditure per year for those reporting was around $7800.  What is your annual maintenance budget?  Do you have that price range in mind when determining what your website spend will be?

Let's finally look at staffing.  The number of people working on the sites ranged from 1 to over 20 in the case of the site with 2.5M hits per month.  The average staff that oversaw site maintenance and development was 4. Now they may not all be full time - but most sites listed out who did what and there was significant work being put in. I'd hazard a guess and say that these labor costs weren't factored into the site costs, based on comments in the website descriptions.  So in addition to the above paid maintenance costs, many of the best of the web sites had additional internal labor costs to maintain. And if they're employing that many people to maintain the site, you can bet that they're constantly updating and keeping the site relevant.

Some keyword analysis from the judges comments show these words trickling to the top, indicating their importance in the overall rankings of the sites. I'll exclude words like "site" that don't really indicate anything about the value they were looking for:
  • Design (50 times), usually associated with the word "clean".  They are looking for uncluttered, easy to navigate and pleasing page design.
  • Content (40 times), in the end a website's value is determined not by how pretty it is - but by the relevancy, usefulness and indexing of the content itself.  Content is king.
  • Social (34 times), How well the sites were integrated with and reflected their social media use and branding was highly important to sites.
  • Easy (32 times), Usually associated with the word "Navigation".  How easy is it to get around the site, find the content you're looking for.
  • Home (30 times) - referring to an attractive and inviting home page design
  • Mobile (30 times), Responsive design and a nice look and feel on all platforms was an important consideration. With over 30% of traffic now generated by mobile devices this is key.
  • Other important keywords included Link (31 times), Media (27 times), Responsive (22 times), Slideshow (17 times), Scroll (17 times).  These all indicate key features the judges thought were important enough to mention in the comments.

Some info on the statistics themselves. There were 37 sites reporting, only 35 gave counts on hits per month, 24 gave initial development cost numbers, 28 gave maintenance cost numbers.  The rest of the statistics were completely filled in by the 37 respondents.

So let's develop a quick checklist:
  1. When was the last time you overhauled your site?  If it was over 2 years score a -1 if under two years score a 1
  2. How many hits per month are you getting?  If over 50,000 score a 1 if under score -1
  3. What did you spend to develop your site initially (or in the last overhaul)? If your budget was over $25,000 give yourself a 1, otherwise -1
  4. What is your budget for maintenance costs per year?  If over $7500 give yourself a 1 otherwise a -1.
  5. How many people within your company help maintain the site?  If over 3 give yourself a 1 otherwise a -1.
  6. Is your site responsive - does it operate well on a phone?  If yes, give yourself a 1, otherwise a -1. 
  7. Do you have a well executed and integrated social media plan that is reflected in your site design? Give yourself a 1 if you do, -1 if you do not.
How did you score? Positive or negative?  If you scored negative and you are dissatisfied with your site's results and performance, you can identify where you may have gaps based on the negative scores you achieved.  If you want a full evaluation of your site and a more complete analysis of performance vs benchmarks, contact www.os-cubed.com for more information.