Friday, November 20, 2015

Microsoft Software Licensing for Non-Profits

As I mentioned in my previous post, Ten Things You Should Know About Microsoft Software Licensing, purchasing software is not as simple as you might expect.  In addition to the programs and concepts I discussed in that blog post, Microsoft offers additional benefits for non-profit organizations.

Some non-profits may qualify for the ultimate discount -- product donations from Microsoft.

Your organization can become a validated nonprofit to gain access to the Microsoft Product Donation and Volume Discount programs available in your country, including:
  • free software and services, including Office 365, Power BI, and more
  • upgrades to Windows 10* or Enterprise with up to 50 licenses
  • discounts on Microsoft software licenses through any approved Volume Licensing reseller
Even if you are not eligible for product donations, your non-profit may be eligible for special non-profit pricing

To find out whether your organization is eligible, you can start here

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ten Things You Need to Know About Microsoft Software Licensing

Microsoft software licensing is a complicated subject, but understanding just a few key concepts can help you get the best value from your Microsoft investment.

Here are the top facts to get you started:

  1. Microsoft sells through a global network of resellers.  Most medium and large sized companies and government agencies have volume licensing agreements which cover all their Microsoft products. This makes it easy to add new products and get the best discounts available. Your reseller will offer the best discount and can add products to your volume licensing agreement where applicable.
  2. Volume licensing is available for small and large customers. Microsoft segments its programs for organizations from 5-250 licenses (Open Value, Open Value Subscription, Open License and Microsoft Online Services) and 250+ licenses (Enterprise Agreement, Microsoft Products and Services Agreement, and Select Plus).  
  3. Azure is sold based on actual usage.  Microsoft Azure and Azure Government are subscription services which allow you to scale resources up and down as needed.  Therefore, your bill is based on actual usage, like a water or electricity bill.  The Microsoft Azure pricing calculator helps you predict the costs. 
  4. Some products are available in more than one licensing model. Historically, the most common model is perpetual licensing based on servers and named user client access licenses (CAL).  The fastest growing model is cloud subscriptions such as Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online. 
  5. Software Assurance provides product version upgrades and other benefits. In addition to product support, you may be eligible for deployment planning services, technical and end-user training. 
  6. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) licensing is for pre-installed software on hardware that you purchase.  For instance, your laptop or server may come pre-loaded with the operating system and other programs.  This license is good for the life of the hardware but may not be reassigned to new hardware. 
  7. Microsoft manages licenses through software keys.  These are the codes that you enter when you activate or install software.  Many laptops come loaded with a trial edition of Microsoft Office or other product  This is a functional version of the product which limits the time you can use it.  By entering a valid product key, the software license is changed from trial to the full product. 
  8. Microsoft Volume Licensing offers programs for government, education, healthcare, and nonprofits.   If your organization falls into one of these categories, you are eligible for special offerings and pricing.  For instance, U.S. government agencies are eligible for the Microsoft Government Cloud and qualified non-profits are eligible for Microsoft charity pricing. 
  9. Microsoft License Advisor is a web-based tool to help you research licensing options. You can create sample quotes for many Microsoft products. 
  10. Microsoft offers financing for volume licensing. You can spread out payments based on your business and financial needs. 
You don't have to become an expert on Microsoft licensing, but it helps to consult with one from your Microsoft reseller or services partner like InfoStrat

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ten Truths of Business Rule Complexity

In order to automate business processes, you need to understand the underlying business rules of your organization.  Analysis of business rules is time consuming, and complex business rules add to the time and expense of software development.

Based on my experience in developing business solutions, I would like to offer the following observations to help organizations understand how business rule complexity affects them.
  1. If you think your business rule is simple, you are not thinking hard enough.  Many business rules seem simple but turn out to be complex on closer examination.  For instance, you may have a rule that a contact person may be listed only once in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.  If each contact may be associated with only one account (or company) record, what can you do when a person acts in a different role for different organizations.  For instance, I can be listed as a customer of the phone company as the primary contact for my company as well as for my home phone number.  Even something that seems simple such as a company name or DUNS number can be complicated.  Some companies have one or more DBA names as well as official company names. A large company can have multiple DUNS numbers and it would not be obvious which is the correct one. 
  2. Automation involves simplification. If you built a model of the world which faithfully represented all the complexity of the world, you would have created another world as complex as the one you were modeling.  One of the purposes of a model is to simplify.  The trick is to find out which simplifications produce business benefits and which ones are not possible.
  3. Complexity alone does not determine the level of effort for automating a business rule. Some complex business rules are simple to implement and some simple business rules are hard to implement.  A complex business rule which operates on easily determined and unambiguous data can a quick programming task, while "fuzzy" logic in a business rule can be challenging to automate. 
  4. Counting the number of business rules does not directly yield a cost estimate. This is a corollary of the previous point.  Neither the number nor complexity of business rules are the sole determinants of cost.  
  5. Look out for exceptions. It's not the rules that will cause the greatest problems, it's the exceptions.  In many cases, you don't find out the exceptions until it's too late, when users are testing a new system.
  6. Words are important in defining business rules. Like law, business requirements analysis requires strict attention to linguistic details.  People at your organization may use different words to refer to the same thing, causing confusion and ambiguity in your system.  You may need to create a glossary and conduct training for users to understand the meaning of business terms terms such as account, contact prospect, customer, lead, order, purchase order, and quote. Most businesses have their own terms of art and acronyms which are important for their business rules.
  7. There is no limit to business analysis.  Unless you constrain business analysis by time or budget, you could keep going on virtually forever documenting requirements and processes without embarking on building your system.  Try to avoid analysis paralysis. 
  8. There is no pleasing everyone. Documenting business processes will highlight divergences and disagreements among people who perform their jobs in different ways.  This process may help foster greater consistency but it also may raise debates and power struggles in order to reach a consensus. 
  9. Consider an iterative approach. Automated systems and business rules affect one another, and changing one will affect the other.  You may be disappointed with the results if you try to complete your business process re-engineering in one iteration, because you may not be able to predict all the impacts of your changes in how people work.  If you allow for feedback and multiple iterations, you are like to arrive at a better solution in the long run.  
  10. Some processes should not be automated. The most common goals for automation are to improve productivity and reduce errors.  Some business processes may have so many exceptions that they are no longer fruitful to automate.  Leave room for human judgment in your automation if you are having trouble forcing the software to make all the decisions. The most successful systems use computing where it works best and trust humans in the scenarios where they can contribute most. 
In short, understanding business rules is essential to most business software development projects. Implementing new software is an excellent opportunity for business process engineering. By keeping tradeoffs around complexity in mind you can arrive at a more successful implementation and a better performing organization. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Office Space

After twenty-five years in the same building, I'm planning to move my office, and reminded of how much office space has changed since I started InfoStrat. In may ways, office space has suffered the same fate as the men's business clothing industry.

When I started my first job, everyone's goal was to graduate from shared space to a private office, preferably a window office.  The ultimate was the corner office, guarded by an assistant.

Today all this is changed, and I had to ask myself whether we needed an office at all.  Of course the assistants are long gone as well. Many new companies don't have offices at all, working at home and meeting in public places or temporary as-needed office space.  I have heard that some Google employees wander the earth to work out of offices in exotic areas.  Hey, why not, especially with free food at the office?

I recall when our clients and partners such as Microsoft and federal agencies started redesigning office space for "hoteling," and building new types of space for collaboration and individual work.

I have learned over the years that you never have the office space you need.  The only question is whether you have too much or too little.  Lately I have had too much office space.  This is not because we have too few people, but because our staff prefer to work at home rather than the office. Typically Monday is the busiest day, and you have to arrive early to grab choice space.  Other days there are many empty private window offices.

As for me, I am old fashioned in many ways and this includes enjoying dedicated office space.  I like to have comfortable, quiet space to collaborate with my colleagues, and I appreciate being able to switch from work mode to being home.  I do enjoy working at home on some solitary projects, such as writing, or for conference calls to other time zones around the world.

Cloud computing and online collaboration tools have made it easier for people to work remotely, and Dynamics CRM makes it possible to have a unified view of a geographically scattered sales or customer service organization.

Despite these changes, office space provides a way to concretely manifest the culture of your organization, and to show your commitment to your people and to your customers. Done right, the office can boost satisfaction and productivity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Online Resources for Microsoft Grants Manager Plus

I often receive requests for information on Microsoft Grants Manager Plus.  While there are many resources for the solution, they are scattered a bit on several websites, so this blog post is designed to provide links to them all in one place.

Microsoft Grants Manager Plus is Microsoft's software solution for grantors to track the entire grant process, from establishing programs to publishing opportunities, accepting online applications, reviewing and scoring applications, grant awards, post-award reporting and closeout. It is built on the Microsoft platform, including Dynamics CRM and SQL Server, so it shares the same security model as these products.  It includes record and field level security as well as an organizational hierarchy in the security model which together provide quite granular security options.  You may use single sign-on in conjunction with Active Directory.

Microsoft chose InfoStrat to develop Stimulus360 in 2009 and later Grants Manager Plus based on the company's experience with grant management over 20 years.  

Here are some resources that may help with your evaluation or implementation of Microsoft Grants Manager Plus:

Home page for the solution -- a good place to start
Download site on CodePlex -- downloads of various versions of the solution
Demo script

Blog Posts

     Discussion of portal options for Grants Manager Plus:  
     Overview by Miki Itin 

Review on Capterra

Videos -- a good way to quickly understand what the solution provides
     Walkthrough Part 1 and Part 2
      Interview with solution architect Dmitri Riz

Finally, I often receive queries about the price of the solution.  Here is a price calculator that includes both on premise and hosted license costs as well as implementation costs. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dynamics CRM and Government Contracting

My company InfoStrat has developed solutions for government contractors to get the most out of Microsoft Dynamics products, and is a member of the Microsoft GovCon Alliance.

Our most important solution is Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors.  It contains customizations to Dynamics CRM which allow you to track the entire government capture management process, including all the stages and decision points (called gates in the Shipley sales model) that government contractors go through from targeting an agency to eventually winning a contract award.  Dynamics CRM automates these steps using business process flows.

Because Dynamics CRM is easy to customize, it pays to make it conform to your business processes and to reflect the differentiation that your company brings to the market. Government contractors differ from one another based on their product and service offerings, and how they sell to government.  For instance, a military aircraft manufacturer looks at the procurement process in a different way than a company that sells training services or office supplies.

Winning government contracts is a difficult process, and it requires months or years and significant commitment from the leaders of a business.  It's not as simple as reading requests for proposals on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

If you choose Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors, you can adapt to changes in the government market and have better visibility into your business development efforts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

10 Best Practices for Online Customer Service

Online customer service is being adopted by a growing number of companies, government agencies, and non-profits.  It is easier and less expensive than ever to provide online knowledge bases, live chat, and social channels for customer service in addition to call centers.

infographic on US State of Customer Service

If you are just starting on the journey of online customer service, you may want to start with some fundamental best practices to chart your course.

  1. Start with executive commitment. Customer service requires significant resources and perseverance, and will become an ongoing task that will grow along with the demands of customers.  Success is unlikely without the explicit support of senior executives.  
  2. Put yourself in the customer's shoes.  Many products and services are becoming more complicated with each new version, and customers can be overwhelmed with the pace of change.  Try to consider how a new customer regards your products and find a way to fill the gap in knowledge. 
  3. Share helpful content.  Create a feedback mechanism so that answers to questions may be shared with other customer service representatives and with customers themselves.  For instance, some products offer a feature to nominate content to be published based on a help desk ticket. 
  4. Hide the complexity of your organization. Customers should not need to understand your organizational chart in order to get help.  Consolidate web pages, email addresses, and phone numbers used to reach customer service to create a goal of one-stop shopping.  
  5. Engage a community of outside experts. If it is appropriate for your product or service, online forums of outside experts can supplement your official channels and bolster the credibility of your offering.  Pay attention to these groups because they will attract complaints that can inform you of areas to improve. 
  6. Use the channels your customers use.  The majority of customers still prefer the immediacy of a telephone call, but a growing number like online chat, social media, self-service websites, and even email to communicate with your organization.  Find out where your customers live by exploring these options and tracking the traffic you receive. Try to stick to the channel where the issue is first raised rather than drive customers to other channels, as many may drop out rather than continue to search for an answer. 
  7. Treat your customer service reps like you would treat your customers. Customer service reps have a difficult job, and these jobs often have high turnover.  Treat the customer service reps well because their happiness and empowerment will be reflected in the attitude they show to customers.  Promote the most successful reps to other positions which take advantage of their product knowledge and people skills.  
  8. Set accurate expectations for response time. If you inform customers of the estimated response time for a communications channel, they can make an informed decision on which is best for them.  Post your telephone hours online, and let callers know of wait times for phone or online chat. 
  9. Empower people who help customers.  Since customer service reps are the first line of defense, arm them with knowledge and capabilities to provide customers with what they seek.  Avoid making escalation the rule rather than the exception if possible. 
  10. Use complaints as a way to improve your product.  Feedback is essential to continuous improvement, and negative feedback is more actionable than positive feedback.  Customer service is a vital way to gather feedback on products and services as well as competitive offerings. 
Customer service drives perceptions of any company or other organization, and the experience of a few people is magnified through their communication with others, especially in social media. Online customer service gives you the opportunity to expand your communications reach, make customers successful with your offerings, and ultimately increase repeat business and customer loyalty.