Keys to Success with Microsoft Products in the Small Business

Michael Chlan, COO/CTO, Stadion Money Management
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Microsoft within Stadion
 
As a small financial services firm (less than 100 employees), Stadion Money Management has had considerable success by using Microsoft products throughout the enterprise. The success, however, was not accidental by any means and required considerable and consistent effort over the years. The lessons learned are applicable to most small businesses regardless of industry. The keys to success have been our consistency of approach, standardization of systems and continual vigilance.
 
"The most critical element to any significant system deployment utilizing Microsoft products is planning in advance of any decisions
 
Consistency with the Enterprise"
 
By using Microsoft products as the basis for all systems within the enterprise, the entire set of questions that arise anytime new systems need to be developed or deployed pertaining to system software selection are eliminated. Gone are the  debates over which operating system and database should be selected for the new servers or systems. At Stadion we selected and mandated the use of Microsoft products for all production systems and desktops. Certainly there are situations where a slight gain in performance, efficiency or advantage in pricing could be realized by selecting a different path, but when those gains are offset by the very real costs of supporting an additional platform and its related software components, the scale tips back in the direction of consistency.
 
Standardization within the Microsoft Product Suite
 
Even when a business is careful to stay with the world of Microsoft with its product selections, issues can arise from not maintaining some level of consistency of product selection even within the Microsoft family. With the differences between versions of software being so significant (e.g. WindowsXP, Windows 7, etc.) it is important to carefully choose which products will be of support within the enterprise and when that support will commence and expire. At Stadion we have worked very closely throughout the company to limit the number of different desktop operating systems so that we would limit the internal support workload. Specifically, Windows 8 was not internally supported until we decided to remove Windows XP from our supported desktops. Even now, our standard desktop is Windows 7 and only after we see a business reason too will we make a large move over to Windows 8.
 
A Vigilant Support Model
 
As much as we would like to think that a purchase and implementation is a major step it is in actuality only the beginning. The support of systems and careful monitoring and maintenance is equally as important as the initial implementation. With the rapid flow of patches and updates made available a system that is not updated on a regular basis can very quickly move from reliable, secure and current to very unreliable and a security nightmare. At Stadion we carefully monitor for the availability of updates and based on the severity of the update, schedule the updating of our enterprise systems. Of course, even updates can have unintended side effects so in order to minimize the impact on our business we test all updates on a subset of non-production systems to verify the quality of the update.
 
Microsoft’s Licensing Challenges
 
Success rarely comes without a few lessons being learned. As a purchaser and user of Microsoft products for many years I am happy to share a few things that sometimes keep me awake at night. While using Microsoft products in an enterprise environment on the larger challenges is to truly understand the Microsoft licensing policies. This is especially so within a hybrid virtual environment that is made of terminal servers, virtual machines and physical machines. At Stadion we found it very important to spend time with our integration partners and any available Microsoft resources to understand the policies thoroughly and the costs associated with various types of implementations. Making a mistake in licensing could be a very expensive mistake. 
 
Microsoft and Uncertainty
 
With software and system technology continually advancing, there is always the concern of whether the next major release of a Microsoft product will introduce some incompatibility that will create a support issue within the enterprise. Of course, along with new “features” being introduced that is sometimes the removal or dropping of support for “old” features that are considered unnecessary by Microsoft. As a business that prefers to focus on conducting our chosen business rather than enhance software as a goal we have to be very observant and thoroughly test all new major releases. In fact, we try to delay whenever possible the implementation of major releases until they have had considerable exposure to and testing by the  general public.
 
One Final Word
 
One last word and probably the most critical element to any significant system deployment utilizing Microsoft products: Plan! Planning in advance of any decisions, budgets and timelines is absolutely critical. Gone are the days where systems can be built based on a few basic decisions regarding resources required and intended usage. In a world of virtual systems and an ever growing migration to cloud based or cloud hybrid solutions any weakness in the plan can quickly become a weakness in the enterprise. The costs of making errors in design have risen considerably and the effort required to correct these errors is sometimes overwhelming. However, with a careful plan, a little patience and a process that is methodical and deliberate, the benefits to a business from deploying Microsoft products throughout the enterprise can be easily measured in Michael Chlan positive financial impact.

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