Friday, November 1, 2013

How I learned to love the ACA!

NYS Department of Health

Much has been said recently about the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare as some like to refer to it).  At it's root ACA was designed to spread the benefits of health insurance to more people.  From that point of view it's a boon to those who are not employed, uninsured, and/or have pre-existing conditions.  It's also a fantastic new way for CEOs of startups and individual owners to get health insurance without the 15% penalty that organizations like the RBA and the insurance companies liked to charge for "owner policies" or "individual policies".  But it doesn't stop there.  ACA can also be a fantastic way for small businesses to create a dynamic, customized marketplace for their employees to shop for health benefits, and still offer to cover some or all of the cost!

At OS-Cubed, Inc. prior to Jan 1, 2014 we've offered a generous health insurance package that included an Excellus BC/BS plan that covered most health needs with a co-pay.  It was not quite the "Cadillac" plan that has been tossed around but it's way better than the industry average high deductible plan.  In addition, the company paid for a significant portion of the plan, leaving only a small amount per month for employees to pay.  But the problem is that with such a small company we could only do one plan - and as owner I got the unenviable job of trying to decide what one plan might fit all my employees.  It's an impossible task.  When you have employees of all ages, health statuses, family situations etc - someone's health care is bound to not be met by a single plan.
All that changed with the ACA.  The new law includes an option for small businesses called "SHOP" where as a company I can register on the website, create a roster of my employees and then offer them all or some of the available individual plans on the market.  The market rate for these plans is about $10/month more than what I pay now for the EXACT SAME PLAN off-market for a family of 3 or more - in other words realistically the same price.

NYS then bills me for all the premiums for the plans my employees select - I determine a single set percentage or fixed rate or a percentage up to a specific rate per plan that I will pay - and deduct the rest pre-tax from their paycheck.  They can select anything from a high end Platinum plan to a much less expensive high deductible account.  If they select a high deductible plan they have the option of setting up their own HSA.  Through our current broker they can also deposit money into an FSA to offset copays, deductibles or non-covered costs.

You cannot understand unless you've been there yourself how much of a relief it is to only have to shop for a plan for myself - and not for every person in my company.  I also will save money down the road.  This year - as a one-time thing - I raised everyone's salary by the difference between what we're paying now, and the rate for a single insured platinum plan on the market (About $500/month/salaried employee).  They can use these dollars to pay for plans, or they can buy a cheaper plan and pocket the difference.  If they buy the same plan as they had last year they'll even make money since that plan went DOWN in price by 4%  (and all the doomsayers said rates would go up).  Meanwhile if I hire a new employee I'm saving significant dollars because after years of ramping up what we reimburse I have ratcheted it back down significantly - with zero impact on my employees take-home pay.  So my employees are kept whole, and continue to get great coverage.  I save money.  My employees can pick the plan that best fits their circumstance.  Their benefits are transportable if they leave the company (sans my contribution of course) and if they decide each year to try a different insurance company they can, without fear of rejection because of pre-existing conditions.

In addition, my transition to the state system (so far) has been flawless - none of the reputed sign up issues, or performance issues.  Everything works well and was easy to set up.  By next week my employees will be able to login and shop for coverage, and sign up for coverage themselves - quickly, easily and without any problems.

All in all I call this a win.  For me, for my employees and for health care in general.  Criticize away if you like, but this small business owner is quite happy with how this is panning out.

For more info on SHOP in NYS:
For more info on OS-Cubed, Inc.:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What does a Best of the Web website cost?

The Rochester Business Journal holds a Best of the Web competition each year.  OS-Cubed is proud to have developed sites that have qualified in the past as a finalist - though this year none of our clients submitted an entry.  The RBJ's competition looks at websites in a variety of categories including Not for Profit cultural, Not for profit human services, Banking and Finance, Education, Business and professional services, Government and Community, Health care, Legal Services, Manufacturing, Real Estate, Retail and Tourism.  In short, a vast cross section of the web services industry.

One of the more interesting questions they ask (and not everyone answers this) is the cost to build the site and the annual cost to maintain it.  Note that the interpretation of these amounts is left up to the submitter of the site and (for instance) may not include internal development costs, volunteer costs (on the part of Not for Profit companies) and other non-accounted for expenses.  Nonetheless, the study offers a nice cross section of the community and what it costs to build and maintain an award winning quality website.

If we look at the data gathered from the information provided, the initial cost of development of an award winning site is roughly $40,000 on average with a range of $325,000 to $2500.  The cost of yearly improvements, upkeep and maintenance arrives at around $6700/year or around 17% of the total cost of the initial site and varies between a few hundred and tens of thousands. 

Award winning sites are typically redesigned every 3 years or so, the cost of which isn't surveyed, but we can expect the cost to be somewhere around 1/4 to 1/2 the initial design cost for a content managed site, and as much as the total design cost for a "built from scratch" site.

So what does this mean for the average company looking to build a site?  Budgets in the over $10,000 range should not be surprising to you.  Depending on features and functions (retail, real estate and banking sites probably cost much more than not for profit or information only sites) you could be anywhere along a continuum of a few thousand dollars all the way to hundreds of thousands.  You also should be expecting to expend somewhere in the 15-20% range to maintain, update and improve your site each year.  As new browsers come out (is your site compatible with IE10 for instance?) sites may well need tweaks and updates to function properly.  Security updates need to be applied, and content needs to be changed and updated frequently.

None of these budgets included demand generation activities including SEO, direct marketing, social media, pay for click or other marketing costs.

Of course you could also opt to build a site for much less than that and not go for a "best of the web" site.  Why you would want to do that when there are competing sites that are better than yours is an exercise I'll leave up to your Marketing manager.  Good luck with that discussion :)

With budgets in that range though, you will want to carefully pick a developer and designer for the long haul - one that has your best interests at heart, and will help save you from costly mistakes - as well as recognize when an investment is worth it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

2012-2013 - A banner year for OS-Cubed, Inc.

The last year has been an amazing one. OS-Cubed has:
  • Produced a dashboard for sales performance for a major national firm using MS-SQL, office applications, and automation scripts
  • Assisted with building web based administrative tools for an enterprise print management dashboard using C# and .Net
  • Implemented a major new ecommerce site using DotNetNuke
  • Created dozens of brochure sites using DotNetNuke
  • Created custom product choice wizards for 2 international companies for their DotNetNuke site - one of which has gotten national recognition and will be featured on their distributors and resellers websites.
  • Hosted over 100 websites for clients - without a single failure or downtime beyond normal maintenance.
  • Provided hosting services for a web based human resource career application co-developed by us that services tens of thousands of employees world wide for a major international firm
  • Installed hundreds of new machines at client sites
  • Implemented virtual servers
  • Supported users
  • Created an application to manage bar code inventory items and update their status in a proprietary ERP system
  • Assisted in implementing a HIPAA compliant EMR system
  • Protected thousands of users from viruses
  • Migrated hundreds of users to Office365 and Google Apps in the cloud
  • Implemented a complete redesign of a major medical information website
  • Implemented a successful prototype of a fashion website for an entrepreneur who has since leveraged that with major funding
  • Implemented sophisticated SSL and remote access for multiple clients
  • Managed technology transitions and expansions for dozens of local clients
  • Assisted multiple not-for-profit boards with their websites
  • Helped organize and handle technology for the Eyes on the Future Event
  • Helped an organization with limited funds continue to support their 60 workers with very old technology

What can we do for you?  Let us know what kind of problem you have to solve and we'll help you solve it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Microsoft Office 2013 OEM licensing - the other shoe drops

Microsoft releases Office 2013 to OEMs

So the other shoe has dropped on Office 2013 - and this one not only emphasizes the THUD from the last licensing reveal, but reiterates it with a thud of it's own.  While a preinstall to hard disk kit is available to shorten download times, Microsoft is pushing (and vendors are hopping on this with abandon) installing Office 2013 OEM entirely from a log-on to Windows Live.

The process works like this - you get only a license key when purchasing an OEM copy of MS Office 2013.  You can't just run the software and activate the license - you must go to to install, and you must establish a Live ID and your packaged license code to get to the download and install screen - there is no alternate installation method.  Once there you can download and install your oem version on one machine.  Although it says in the FAQ that you can come back to the site to re-download and install, it's not clear if you can reactivate after say a hard drive wipe and reinstall.  We'll just have to see as Microsoft could not give a clear answer.

Also unclear is whether you can do this with more than one license on a single LiveID - IE must I have a unique live id for each OEM license, or can I use one live ID to download and install all my licenses?  Enquiring minds want to know but even Microsoft Support and licensing couldn't answer this one definitively.  Their recommendation - "try it and let us know how it works - we'll leave this case open".  Helpful.  Not.

This doesn't of course consider the case of whether the end user has a fast internet connection or not.  Over some internet connections the multi hundreds of megabyte office download may well take hours.  Additionally, what is the first thing I want to do with a machine - well.... use it.  But I can't because I may be sitting around for quite a while before any useful software is loaded on it.
Finally there's the issue of the LiveIDs.  How many people will create a one-time throwaway live id and then forget the username and password.  With the old system all they needed was their install disks and their keycode.  They can't even ORDER install disks any more. Update - you can order backup install disks - once you activate using your live ID.

Fortunately you do not need to associate the live ID you used for install with Office for cloud storage etc.  I can just imagine managing this for a 50 user install and having them all share the same 7gb skydrive.  Fortunately once installed and authenticated you don't need to ever log into that account again from that computer.

All this points to a drive towards subscription based systems.  Which begs the question of - are you ready for it?  I predict that OEM and OEM pricing will go away. The new subscription based systems are cost effective on a 3 year new version renewal plan - I suspect rather than noodle with all the rest of this stuff this will drive more small to medium businesses and all individuals into subscriptions.  And with Microsoft's cash grab on the low end subscriptions - resellers make ZERO dollars on these installs and ZERO recurring revenue.  I suspect that Microsoft may have written the death knell for office within the next 5 years unless they fix some of these deficiencies.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What you probably don't know about Microsoft's new direction

and why it's important for every Microsoft Developer to understand it...

Microsoft has finally let the other shoe drop on how their new Office/Cloud/Windows 8 strategy is going to work by releasing the details of how Office 2013/365 will be licensed and sold - and it's not just a shoe it's a hiking boot - landing with a big THUD.

There are some important new ramifications about how the entire thing will work - and it's important for you as a developer to understand how that changes what is still the predominant IT ecosystem on the planet.  Let me apologize now to the Linux, Apple and Android developers - this article is not for you - it's for those of us who have been working on Microsoft Apps for the last 30 years.

Let's start with a little history.  Back in the late 70's and early 80's a revolution happened.  Until that point computers were large, relatively complex beasts, controlled by a corporate entity (because they were too expensive for mere individuals to buy) and had one processor, one set of ram, and one set of hard drives shared by dozens of users through a terminal.  This had advantages and disadvantages.  It was easy to control software and access to that software, and easy to manage since everyone shared the same tools.  Of course you couldn't easily take your work home with you (you might consider that a good or bad thing) and the applications were very expensive and monolithic since it required the developer to have equivalently expensive tools to create the software.  In the late 70's personal computers peeked their way into the American home.  Initially crude and difficult to use - but relatively inexpensive compared to their mainframe counterparts - they created a revolution.  Suddenly you could purchase a system that would let you perform powerful calculations and perform difficult tasks in  your home.  More importantly, through the advent of the business PC you could have the same platform at work as you used at home and carry data back and forth on a portable storage device.  Also importantly - you could purchase a system to develop for this new platform that didn't cost an arm and a leg - which meant that new software and software improvements increased at an exponential rate.

Since that time we added in the ability to access your computer over the internet - and for computers to have access to shared data on the internet.  At the same time - through some serious investment in infrastruture, it became cheaper to get storage, processor time and bandwidth through major services like Windows Azure, Amazon AWS and other huge interconnected networks.  So in a sense we're back where we started from.  Our current devices are very complex and independent, but we're becoming more and more reliant on apps and storage that run in the cloud - simplifying the requirements for what our personal devices need to have.  Suddenly a tablet running a run of the mill low power processor can leverage gigabytes of data, bandwidth and the processing power of thousands of processors.  This means that - down the road - assuming we continue to live in a connected society our applications are going to become more and more like the original mainframe apps of the 70's and 80's.  Instead of buying machines with gigabytes or terabytes of  local storage we're going to be buying a simple inexpensive machine that leverages that cloud power.   Our operating systems need to be less complex because the heavy lifting isn't handled at the desktop any more, or even at the local server level.

With Windows 8 and Office 365 subscription services Microsoft has moved from the "software as a license you buy model" (which hasn't been eliminated yet - just deemphasized) to the "software  you subscribe to and get as needed" model.  An individual can now - for $100/year - buy any kind of device they want - phone, tablet, pc, laptop or something not even invented  yet, install office software on up to 5 devices they own, use a simpler version of that software on the web, get 27gb of cloud document storage to use or share with whomever they want (plus each of the other 4 users gets 7 gb of storage for a total of 55GB of available shareable storage for $100/year).  They get an hour of free Skype talking and sharing a month.  They get the latest version of office, allowing frequent updates to add functionality without the expense of giant new releases.  They get streaming of the software to a PC that isn't even licensed for Office to edit a document assuming the target is running Windows 7 or 8.  On the corporate side the same thing can be acquired (with slight variations in capability) for $240/year/user for enterprise users or $150/year/user for small businesses - and on the corporate side they add in sophisticated sharepoint capabilities and active directory management (doing away with the need for an active directory server, or minimizing it's need to being just a local extension of the cloud).  For $72/month they can have the same thing, without the locally installed office licenses.  In addition, with either a corporate or Live account your settings, files, and preferences follow you from machine to machine - even across platforms.  By the end of this year Gartner Group estimates that the PREDOMINANT way that websites will be accessed is via a phone or tablet.  It will outstrip desktop and laptop access - in 2013.  That's this year folks.

So what does that mean for you as a developer?  It means that Microsoft means to make cloud storage and apps it's end game - not just an add-on, and the day of the local server - and even the super powerful end user system are slowly - but surely - ending.  And if you think - well we'll just move to another platform - think again.  The largest competing platforms for end-user computing are moving in the same direction.  Apple (of course) saw this coming years ago and has quietly started phasing out desktop and laptop machines in favor of tablets and other simpler less expensive devices.  Google's play in the Android market focuses strictly on low powered machines that leverage the cloud.  Linux for the desktop?  Nice OS but used only by technogeeks so far. In the next 2-4 years you're going to see a huge shift away from expensive powerful, complex to manage servers and systems in your office or home and towards low priced, low powered systems that leverage the cloud.  And once they go cloud they won't be going back.  Don't believe me?  The only way to deploy a standalone Access application in Access 2013 is to deploy it to Azure and Sharepoint.

So what can you do as a developer?  For one - learn a cloud based system and leverage it's power - now.  I don't care if it's AWS, Azure, SharePoint or some other platform - but you should start to figure out how they work, how to make your apps operate efficiently and actively over a not-always-reliable internet connection, and how to make them scale so that you don't have to sell additional licenses to get additional power out of them.  It also means designing systems - whether they be apps, websites, or whatever - to adapt to a huge variety of interfaces and screen sizes - everything from hand-held phones to 50" 3d High Definition living room monstrosities.  They need to adapt to all sorts of interaction interfaces - the old fashioned keyboard, the mouse, the touchpad, the touchscreen, and the "gesture based" interfaces like the Kinect.  It means that data becomes a mix of BYOD storage (Bring Your Own Data) and corporate cloud storage - and how will you manage that and protect the privacy and security of data when it's easy to copy things from corporate sources into a user's private data store in the cloud.

It also means you should start to explore web and cloud based development tools. That quad core dev machine on your desk may well go away someday - and you need to be ready to use some of the new and sophisticated web based tools for software development in project management, compilation, version control, etc.  The distributed nature of today's collaborations will make that a must.

What happens if you don't?  Well how long did terminal based apps last once the PC was out?  How long did non-graphical DOS based apps after Windows came out?  How long did non-web based apps last after the internet took over?  You have some time - this isn't happening overnight.  But it IS happening and if you don't adapt there will be a day when you wake up and find your app or skills irrelevant.  And that day is approaching.

PS - if you're interested in migrating to the cloud and leveraging Office 365 OS-Cubed is a cloud expert - we can help you with migration, support and leveraging your existing infrastructure while using the cloud efficiently.