Business Computer Systems Guide – Part 3

Planning and Design

I mentioned in my last post,  Business Computer Systems Guide – Part 2, that the formula for a florishing business requires a road map with the goal of balancing specific features offered by your solutions providers with the sophistication of your systems environment, all the while considering the specific business needs of your organization.

If you are like most people, you would rather be free and spontaneous about doing an activity as opposed to methodically planning the activity, then executing your plan to do the activity. Business systems are an area where you must restrain you spontaneity. 

To begin your plan, you must ask yourself several basic questions. As you are working on these questions, begin documenting your questions and answers. Grab paper and pencil or a laptop with graphics and word processing software and let’s get started. This work will become the foundation for your “Planning Document“. Your “Planning Document” can be a single piece of paper or become a book, serving as the instructions to put your plan into action. 

The process works like this. List the functional areas of your business then, within each functional area, list each specific role and the tasks each role needs to complete to be effective. Do not think in terms of departments or employees. Managing multiple roles is commonplace in today’s business environment. List the processes that are required by the task for successful completion. Your list, a business process evaluation, may look something like this:

Functional Area Role Daily Transactions Task Process Notes
 Service
department
 Warranty
Parts Returns
 55 Obtain
return number from vendor
Obtain
some numbers from vendor websites, some from telephone calls to
vendors
      Enter return number on warranty service order Pull
up WSO in business software, insert number then update WSO
      Enter
return number on shipping label
Create
UPS label using UPS website, insert number on label then print label
with return number
 Service
Department
 Warranty
Tracking
 1 Print
warranty accounts receivable report
Go
to reporting module of business software and print report #AR525
      Print
freight tracking report
Go
to reporting module of business software and print report #FRT15
      Reconcile
parts received to warranty line items
Use
a ruler and yellow highlighter to highlight parts not received on
report #AR525
      Give
reconciled report to service manager
Scan
and email highlighted report #AR525 to service manager

Unfortunately, this will be a necessary, tedious and difficult undertaking. However, the information gathered in this “business process evaluation” will save you an incredible amount of money. 

From the example above, I can tell you that both roles require a desktop computer with a directly attached printer and scanner, a configuration dictated by the number of daily transactions of the Warranty Parts Return role. The computer will need network access to the line of business software and email, both hosted in a remote data center and high speed internet access to UPS for creating labels. The two roles are done by one person using 35 to 40 man hours per week, again based on the daily transaction count.  

The information that this brief evaluation does not tell me about is equally important. Each role does not require music or burning of cds for completion. Also, no other websites except UPS are required for completing these two roles. I think you get the picture. 

You will need to progress from 1) your “business process evaluation” section, to 2) your overall systems design, to 3) specific business driven initiatives within your design, to 4) a formal tactical deployment plan for each of your initiatives.  

Your overall systems design must answer several questions from information in the “business process evaluation” that you complete.

1 – Do I build and keep my network robust and secured from intended or unintended damage? YES.. Your systems investment is large, no matter what size business you have. Include in your design simple things that may go un-noticed later. Plan to lock up your equipment. Secure your equipment by mounting it on the wall or cabling a desktop and monitor to a desk. Have a BONDED cleaning service. Keep desktop computers out of sight at night, even if it means your office might not quite be arraigned the way you like. Scrutinize the perceived need to carry a laptop with you. Think of all the lock and key issues then define how you will deal with them in your planning document.  

2 – Do I “seal off” and protect my network from both other peoples’ networks and the internet? YES.. Solid business drivers determine the appropriate use for your computer systems. Think about how you intend your employees and yourself to use your systems. Will you need access to EBay for selling your excess inventory? Will you need to login to your supplier’s Website to place and pay for orders? Do you plan to have email for everyone that you employee? Do you use QuickBooks or some other accounting system? Add all of your access needs to your planning document.  

3 – Do I deal with my present computer network system that does not seem to work correctly and wastes my employees’ and my time? YES.. You can work around your present systems and possibly mitigate the problems you have. If necessary, you might need to do a sequential cutover to your new system by simply un-plugging and re-plugging cables and restarting desktop computers. Document the cutover in your PLAN. If you are concerned about overall costs, you might consider re-service contracting present equipment or selling it on EBay.  

4 – Do I avoid being stuck with repair bills on computers and equipment and costs for “consultants” or the “local computer geek” over the long term? YES. Make a commitment to TIER ONE equipment, and then secure it well. Think warranty, more warranty and extended service contracts. Never keep a business technology device beyond its warranty period. Very good tools exist to migrate data and settings from old computers to new computers. Your business deserves the best desktops and laptops, and the prices are relatively low. With warranty, one call has your pc repaired.  

At this point in your “Planning Document” you will need to create specific business driven initiatives that become part of your “design” and a formal tactical deployment plan for each of your initiatives. From the “business process evaluation” example above, I might have several initiatives. For example: 

The service department will have four desktop computers. These computers will be networked into a combination firewall / router / switch allowing access to UPS, Email and the ABC Business Software. 

Initiative 1 – Deploy four desktop computers to the four service department administrative employees. 

Tactical plan 

Order four Dell desktop computers Dell Small Business website link
Unpack and install four desktop computers to four service department desks
Turn on each computer; name with serial number, complete default setup
File each computer’s documentation in unique folder in file room
Install ABC Business Software to each computer
Install UPS and Email links to each computer

Initiative 2 – Install 10 network cable runs from the telephone closet to the service department, two drops for each of the four desk areas and two drops for the printer area on the north wall. 

Tactical plan 

Call Cable Company to look at service department and schedule work
Locate area in telephone closet to terminate cable runs and place equipment
Move desks away from walls
Clean up service department administration area
Meet Cable Company then sign off on cable company installation
File cable run certifications in file room

Initiative 3 – Install combination firewall / router / switch into telephone closet 

Tactical plan 

One
Two
Three
Etc

Etc,  until your initiatives and deployment plans are completed

Identify and commit the resources dedicated to the initiative, set a time and sequence for each initiative. Then you are on your way. Your “Planning Document” should now be off to a great start.

Continue to brainstorm questions and answers and note them in your planning document as you progress this Guide to Business Computer Systems and other internet sources you may come across. In a short time, you will have a document that will form the basis of positive changes to your business computing structure.  

Your design can be as simple as following the user guide that you will learn about in the next section or as complex as you cannot possible imagine.

The important thing is to be straight about when you know you are over your head and need additional learning or outside assistance. When you have completed the majority of your planning document, you will have a sense of whether or not you can complete the task yourself or how much of it you can complete without help. 

Thanks for reading. Next time, I will discuss networks and the Internet.

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