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Taking a look at the SMB MVP Road show as it tours the UK

SMB MVP Community Roadshow LogoLast night I attended a special AMITPRO event at The Arden Hotel in Solihull. More than 50 Microsoft SMB Partners, IT Professionals, and Microsoft MVP’s got together to talk Small Business IT.

The event, the SMB MVP Community Roadshow, was put together by volunteers from around the world – and sponsored by HP, Microsoft and Jeff Middleton of SBSMigration.com

What was notable about this event was whilst HP and Microsoft laid out a considerable sum – not only for room hire, speaker expenses, loan equipment and transport costs – the event had a distinctly independent feel to it. This was no marketing or sales pitch and all of the speakers, who had given their time freely to get involved, spoke about the pro’s – and con’s – of working with Microsoft and HP as vendors.

What is an MVP?

Some background – the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) programme is the highest award given by Microsoft to those it considers “the best and brightest from technology communities around the world” who “actively share their … technical expertise with the community and with Microsoft”. We are lucky to have some great MVP’s within the European SMB IT Community, many of whom made the trip to Birmingham for this event.

Jeff Middleton

Jeff Middleton presenting on Swing MigrationThe event kicked off with Jeff Middleton giving an overview of the road show – which has already visited dozens of venues in North America, Israel, Belgium and the Nordic region of Europe – and is now set for four dates in the UK. Jeff gave some background on the Small Business User Group scene worldwide – how it was founded many years ago by some key individuals (many of whom were sat in the room!) – and initially supported by Microsoft, but thrived based on the work of group lead volunteers such as Andy Parkes of iBIT Solutions.

Our first presenter was SBS MVP Marina Roos of Rotterdam, Netherlands talking about Microsoft’s Multipoint Server solution. I don’t think I’m alone in saying this was an eye opener, as whilst I’d heard of Multipoint – I didn’t really understand the product or it’s application. Marina offered up a live demo of the product for us via Wi-Fi – and a number of people in the audience RDP’d into the HP Multipoint Server via iPads and Netbooks to test it out as Marina gave her presentation.

Oliver Sommer presenting on Microsoft SBSAfter some dinner and networking time, Oliver Sommer, SBS MVP of Trinity Computers in Germany, next spoke on the varying flavours of Microsoft Small Business Server that are now available. Ollie had a very short window to cram in an awful lot of information, and answered dozens of tough questions from the audience, sharing some valuable information – not only on SBS Standard, Premium, Essentials and how they might be deployed – but also on some 3rd Party Apps that could enhance SBS.

Finally, Jeff Middleton of SBSMigration.com talked about his now world famous “Swing Migration” Server Migration technique and how it applied for not only all types of Microsoft en-site server solutions – but also for those considering migrating to the Cloud. As somebody who has used both Microsoft’s “official” Whitepaper on SBS migrations and Jeff’s Swing Migration technique, I found this a valuable reminder of the pitfalls of migrations and how the Swing Migration system offers so many benefits to IT Professionals.

AMITPRO

The evening closed with AMITPRO group lead Andy Parkes explaining to the many newcomers in the room how the Association of Midlands IT Professionals meets on a monthly basis with the intent on sharing knowledge, information and learning, and how everyone was welcome to return in the future. We hope that many of those newcomers found value in the evening and will come to visit us again.

The SMB MVP Road show now rolls onto Reading on Wednesday 16th November, followed by London on Thursday 17th November, and Edinburgh on Monday 21st November. Registration is still open – so if you fancy attending these meetings, get in quick!

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, not just as an opportunity to learn from some of the best in our industry, but also to meet new faces and see such a healthy debate around SMB IT products, hardware and vendors. It really reminded me of how much I’ve got from the SMB IT Community, both in the UK and globally, over the years – and how many great individuals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, learning from, and sharing knowledge with.

If you attended the event and found it useful – feed this back to your representatives at Microsoft and HP. Personally, I thought both companies got way more positive exposure to their product range from true experts demonstrating their kit (warts and all) than any amount of vendor product sales pitches – but it’s only by feeding this back to the sponsors that they’ll appreciate this first hand and continue to support the SMB IT Community.

Attendees came from as far as Leeds, Exmouth and Cornwall to attend this event – which shows how valuable people perceive it to be. It’s hoped the SMB MVP Road show could return to the UK for further dates in the North of the Country in the near future. Fingers crossed!

A huge thanks to Robert Pearman, Andy Trish and Andy Parkes for being the lynchpins in organising this event, and to MVP’s Jeff Middleton, Marina Roos and Oliver Sommer for making the trip to see us. It was very much appreciated by all involved! Good luck with the remainder of your UK dates!

Photos courtesy of Vijay Riyait – one of those SBSC Community founders I mentioned. :-)

Legrand CRM Partner Event – 29th Sept – Birmingham, UK

Hot on the heels of my blog post about choosing the right CRM Vendor to work with – here’s an opportunity to meet a CRM Vendor who is very clearly focused on partners working within the SMB market.

Legrand CRM Software LogoLegrand CRM has a strong presence in Australia, New Zealand and the USA, and they are now looking to meet UK partners to bring the product to these shores.

Legrand CRM’s founder Alain Legrand will be hosting the half day event, which is aimed at:-

  • IT consultants and advisors
  • Business process consultants
  • Software resellers looking to offer additional solutions and find new revenue streams
  • Companies and vendors who offer IT based solutions that could benefit from a CRM offering
  • IT support and hardware providers who also offer business and IT process advice

The event takes place at the Ramada Encore NEC in Birmingham on 29th September 2011, from 09:00 to 12:00.

Legrand CRM scores really highly on the integration front with Microsoft Office and a number of Accounting packages, offers both a Hosted and En-Site version, and in my experience, whilst being very powerful is also very easy to learn for both your clients and your engineers.

More details and details on how to register for the the event can be found at

 

How often do you take a break?

As well as being someone I’m fortunate enough to consider a friend, Andy Parkes is also one of my favourite bloggers. He writes a great mixture of technical articles and small business thoughts. If you’re not subscribing to his blog then I’d encourage you to do so.

Last week, Andy wrote a fantastic blog post about something that I know had been on his mind for a while. In the post, entitled “When did you last have a real break?” Andy spoke very personally about feeling burnt out, un-creative and in a rut and how taking a proper break away from his business had subsequently helped him re-charge his batteries and come back rejuvenated.

Obvious advice?

Relax“Take a break” seems such obvious advice when given, but in my experience is often the advice most ignored. It seems the majority of us feel that if we just push to get that to-do list completed then we’ll feel better and be able to relax. But somehow when we follow that path it doesn’t quite work out that way and by working harder, pushing ourselves a little more – we end up no further forward than when we began.

I’m a big advocate of taking a break. For me it’s not just long weekends and holidays, but taking time out during a day – ten minutes reading a chapter of a book, or half an hour eating lunch away from your desk – this isn’t time lost, but time well spent as you return to your work responsibilities with a clearer sense of direction and more energy. It’s the old phrase about working smarter, not harder.

Supporting yourself through systems

I coach my MSP clients, especially the smaller clients, to put systems and processes in place that enable them to delegate or outsource work and therefore take a break. Avoiding doing so means that you’re running an unsustainable business. In reality it’s a simple choice of planning now to enable yourself to take a break soon, or ignoring the inevitable and waiting for your business to crumble around you as you’re forced to step away from it – through burn-out, through illness, through family emergency, or through some other circumstance out of your control.

Holiday e-mail addiction

But I’ll confess that typically, when I take a long weekend or a holiday, my definition of “taking a break” has always been that I’ll do some e-mail triage in the morning, and maybe again in the late afternoon. I’m never truly away from work – just doing much less of it than normal.

So last week I tried an experiment and took a proper break. I made a statement by setting my out of office message using my own brand of humour to inform people I wouldn’t be responding to e-mail (Susanne wrote an blog post about my own out of office message and made some interesting observations on OOO messages in general) and then I spent time relaxing with friends. No e-mail at all.

In fact, apart from firing my laptop up to find a last minute hotel room on the South Coast, I didn’t use my computer at all.

The results

Do you know what? Upon returning to the office, my business is still here, nobody has complained about my absence, I’ve not missed any opportunities (quite the opposite in fact) and the world is still turning. Amazing huh?

As somebody who follows the “Inbox Zero” philosophy, it’s also made me question some of my beliefs about how e-mail should fit into my life.

Conclusion

In our modern lives we are used to being always “on”. Always being accessible electronically. But I’m coming round to the notion that this is actually a subconscious choice we make rather than an unavoidable fact of modern life.

By forcing ourselves to turn “off” regularly we gain a lot of perspective that helps us be more productive and to make more of a difference on a day-to-day basis.

I believe that taking a break, and often, is an important a skill as anything else we can learn to do.

AMITPRO Meeting – The Arden Hotel, Solihull – 8th March 2011

AMITPRO LogoThe March AMITPRO group meeting will take place on Tuesday 8th March, 2011 at The Arden Hotel in Solihull, with a couple of interesting speakers lined up:-

Bill Jest and Vin Jauhal – WemTel

They will be talking about hosted Voice-over-IP (VoIP).

Outline agenda

  • What do Customers look for?
  • Why deliver Voice?
  • Platform and Architecture
  • What are the requirements?
  • Who is Hosted VoIP for?
  • Options and Features
  • Advantages ‘The Pluses’
  • Disadvantages ‘The Pitfalls’
  • The Opportunity
  • Deployment Examples
  • Customer Savings & Seller Profits

The second speaker is:-

David is a digital forensic examiner and his specialist area is the analysis of handheld digital devices, such as Smartphones and iPhones. His main area of work is for criminal defence lawyers and he has management vetting clearance as a sub-contract forensic examiner of mobile phones, for a local police county. He is the digital forensic expert for the Cavell Group who are specialists in crisis mitigation and can be called upon by them at anytime and potentially may have to travel anywhere in the world in response to a crisis. He also now provides forensic services to businesses which may involve assisting with providing evidence for HR matters along with digital audits. In his presentation he will discuss the types of evidence that can be found in handheld devices, the ethical side of digital investigation, the challenges involved and also what advances, such as the cloud, may offer additional challenges to forensic examiners.

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On a personal note – I’ve had the opportunity to chat to David Benford about Technical Forensics and let me just say the whole topic of his presentation is both very timely and fascinating. I’m really looking forward to David’s presentation, as I think it’ll be a real eye-opener for those that see it!

Visitors to the group are very welcome! Arrive at 1700 for 1730, with the group networking in the bar area both before and after the presentations.

Want more details? Reach out to AMITPRO Group Lead Andy Parkes, or feel free to drop me a line!

 

Webinar – Operational Efficiencies – 16th November 2010

I’ll be joining the guys from GFI Max today at 4pm, for the third in the series of Managed Series “Building Blocks” webinars we’ve been a part of – this one entitled “Operational Efficiencies”.

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Building Blocks logo

Practitioner panel discussion: Operational efficiencies

In this new Building Blocks to Managed Services™ webinar series we’re exploring the core challenges in managing a successful IT support business.
Join Rick Dibbert (Parsec Computer Corp, running 29 years) and Richard Tubb as they share experiences and ideas on marketing, sales and operational efficiencies in this three-part webinar series.

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Full details and sign-up can be found at

We’ve been very fortunate thus far and been joined by over 200 attendees at each webinar, so I hope you can join us for this final webinar!

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