Live Tech Support From Microsoft Answer Desk
The Changing Landscape For SMB IT Consultants

Lots of forces are combining to change the services that you need for your small business or law firm, and at first glance most of them appear to limit my usefulness. You can get cloud services that don’t require ongoing maintenance, your devices are getting simpler and cheaper, and outsourced support is becoming available at a price that might undercut my hourly fee.

And yet I think I’m going to be busier than ever for the foreseeable future. (The foreseeable future extends about five years. Ain’t nobody’s crystal ball that can predict further out than that in technology.) What’s the plan?

Microsoft circulated an email to its partners a couple of days ago and said all I have to do is this:

“1. Transform your business

“2. Transform your marketing and demand generation tactics

“3. Transform your sales tactics

“4. Transform your service delivery capabilities

“5. Operational considerations

Is that all? Pfft. Piece of cake.

Fortunately I’m going to have an easier time. The landscape is a little less daunting in the world of very small businesses. Changes are afoot but here are some of the reasons that I think I’ll still be valuable for your business.

  • The traditional model won’t disappear overnight.

You’ll have onsite computers and servers that will break and need fixing for years to come. The era of cloud services is arriving but very small businesses lag behind in adopting those services. When a cloud service starts to work reliably and inexpensively, you’ll sign up but only after the value has been demonstrated and others have lived through the first few years of kinks. Hosted Exchange mail accounts went through that trial over the last five years and now Microsoft Office 365 is right for very small businesses. There are others undergoing that kind of testing right now, from document management to accounting to law office case management. Over the next few years more of you will move to those services, but not all at once and not all together.

In the meantime you’ll need me to do just what I’ve been doing – replacing a server, helping set up a workstation, connecting network printers.

  • There will always be jobs I can do so quickly that it makes more sense to pay me than to do them yourself.

Technology is my job, my hobby, and my love. Your job is being a lawyer or doing accounting or selling wine; computers and mobile devices are your tools.

Over the last ten years you’ve learned a lot about your tools and they’ve become easier to manage but they are still devious and fragile. I know thousands of different things that I can do faster and better than you to make them behave. You’re running a business. I’ll do the cost/benefit analysis on your behalf and let you know if a problem can be handled just as well by doing it yourself or calling Microsoft. There will be situations all the time where it makes more sense for me to fix your problem than for you or your paralegal to spend hours on the phone trying to do it without me.

Paradoxically, one aspect of changing technology makes it more likely that you’ll call me for help. Businesses with more than 25 employees probably have at least one employee onsite who does IT support either full-time or informally. As onsite technology becomes simpler, it becomes ever less likely that anyone will develop those skills inside a very small business. I used to advise small businesses to hire someone with IT skills to keep costs down. That wouldn’t pay now, compared with passing things off to me.

  • Continuity.

Your technical problems can be solved more easily because I know your business and your equipment. If you’ve got a problem with Outlook and I don’t know you and you don’t plan to ever call me again – hey, call Microsoft, with my blessings. I have long-term relationships with my clients because that’s the best way for me to be effective.

I’m the keeper of the passwords. I’m the guy who knows which printer needs a special driver, and where to find it on the server. I know where your web site is hosted and what speed your Internet connection is.

I’m not invaluable. If I were hit by a bus, you’d be fine. I don’t keep secrets to make it hard to replace me. When it’s time to fix a minor problem, though, it will frequently be cheaper and more efficient to pay me to fix it than to begin the process of introducing yourself and setting up your account with Microsoft so you can talk to a rep who’s never seen your network before.

In particular, my Remote Management customers are familiar now with how quickly I can connect to a system to see a problem and fix it. It increases the value of our long-term relationship in a very profound way.

  • Geography.

It has quickly become relatively unimportant whether I am close to you. I can connect to your notebook in Japan as readily as in Santa Rosa. I’ve got clients in Los Angeles and Minnesota and elsewhere, much to my surprise.

That’s not the whole story, though. There are some things that can’t be done without touching the equipment, and that will be true for years to come. The most significant is the work to clean a malware-infested machine. Most malware is designed to make your computer unusable for anything except transmitting a credit card number, if you are fooled into doing that. Typically changes are made in the registry to prevent .EXE files from running so you can’t start Task Manager or System Restore. At the least, the malware will put up windows that keep you from seeing anything else onscreen. Most of the malware in the wild now follows you right into Safe Mode.

There’s no way to initiate a remote session when that happens, and diagnostic tools are disabled. I can frequently get past the malware when my hands are on the computer but not from a distance.

Microsoft says its Answer Desk staff will clean malware for $99 from their desks in Idaho or Costa Rica or wherever they are. I don’t think so.

  • Good instincts.

I know a lot of cool tricks and I’ve developed an odd rapport with these machines on our desks. I don’t have personal experience with more than an infinitesimal fraction of the avalanche of programs and devices and web services out there, but I can find my way to solve problems efficiently with a combination of knowledge and experience and intuitive leaps and search skills – and a healthy dose of humility, so that I know when to take my hands off.

  • I’ll be moving forward with you.

This is the important part. I’m going to keep finding the services that you need, before you realize you need them.

Your technology needs have changed dramatically in the last five years. I’ve changed my business right along with you. It started with remote support, which I began using long before it became commonplace. After that it was Bruceb Remote Management, which lets me monitor your servers and keep your workstations up to date – a crucial component of your security that isn’t covered by antivirus software. Most recently I’ve introduced Bruceb Cloud Backup for monitored online storage of business-critical files.

That’s why I’m so excited about 2012. I don’t know what the next thing is that I can do for you – but I can’t wait to figure it out and tell you about it.

I am deeply grateful to my loyal clients and friends who have given me the opportunity to work with them for so long. Technology changes but I hope – and I predict – that we’ll be doing work together for a long time to come.

Enough advertising! More tips and tricks coming soon.

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