As a “migrant white collar worker” IT consultant, we spend a lot of time with our clients. In fact, I like to say if we are in the office, we’re not doing our jobs. How do we do it?
When we founded Harvard Partners, it would have been easy for us to bring all the heavy lifting in-house, and spend a lot of time building our environments. We didn’t, and it’s one of the reasons our overhead structure is minimal.
1. Email – Exchange
For our email, we debated Exchange vs. Gmail. We went with Exchange from Intermedia, and haven’t looked back. We wanted complete interoperability with our clients, and so far every single client we have uses Exchange. For our travelling consultants, we either use Exchange or a (less expensive) POP email, based solely on need.
We also use Intermedia for secured document storage. We use SharePoint, and while everyone in the company knows how to use it, everyone feels it is a compromise.
2. Phone - Asterisk
For telephony, we wanted a VoIP solution. We chose a hosted VoIP (asterisk) system from dao Consulting. Our hosted solution allows hardphone access (I happen to use a Polycom phone), or softphone. Our voice mails are “sent” to email (and thus the handheld).
We use this system for internal conference calls, too, with InterCall as the (somewhat pricey) backup when quality is important (i.e. client conferences.)
3. Video – Skype
While we all travel, we do try to stay in touch. Skype offers free point to point video, and a paid group video for up to 10 people. We all use Skype, and find its presence and text messaging capability very convenient.
4. Desktops/Laptops/Smartphone – Bring your own technology
As technologists, we all find we like to use different technology. While for years in larger companies we advocated standardization, in our own business we are accommodating whatever technology people want to bring.
For PCs, some use Apple PCs, some buy higher end laptops, others buy the cheapest laptop they can and then “turbocharge” components. We have company standards on virus protection and encryption; beyond that people can bring their own. We do insist on the Microsoft Office suite for interoperability, and are surprised to find even now the Apples can struggle with 100% interoperability.
Everyone chooses to use a so-called smartphone, and we have one of everything. Intermedia supports all our handheld devices, whether the venerable BlackBerry, the delightful iPhone, or the scrappy Droid.
5. WAN connectivity
We’ve become adroit at establishing connections at our clients. We never, ever use a client’s wired network. Some clients have guest wireless, and we’re surprised how unreliable these systems are in practice. If we can’t secure a solid wireless connection, we’ll either use a MiFi connection (through a mobile hotspot “card” or the Droid), or will tether to the smartphone. It’s my personal experience having various connection types is important (I carry a Verizon MiFi hotspot and when it can’t connect, will tether using my AT&T BlackBerry.) Using two vendors has always assured me a connection, and we know McDonalds, Starbucks (aka Fourbucks), and Staples have free wireless in a pinch.
We’ve tried USB wireless modems, and frankly they don’t seem to work nearly as well as the HotSpots, and are useless if more than one consultant is at a client.
So, as strategic IT consultants, we’ve outsourced all our systems. This allows us to use “commercial grade” systems housed in high tier secured data centers. We’re able to focus on our clients, and not on our technology.
What have we missed? Are there other technologies you use?