The notion that Microsoft has a tendency to undersell itself might induce a bemused smile from the IT community but Conor Brennan, deputy chief executive and head of development at Chambers of Commerce of Ireland (CCI), is adamant that the software giant doesn’t always do itself any favours.
“Windows Small Business Server [SBS] 2003 is an excellent product, but the business benefits are never explained as clearly as they should be,” says Brennan, a convert to the software, which he believes is great value for money.
Understanding the needs of small businesses in Ireland is part of Brennan’s job and he is confident there would be many more customers for IT solutions if they were sold properly. “There is a common misconception with small businesses that they’re tight and mean and won’t pay money for technology. Of course they will if they can see the benefits,” he argues.
The Microsoft pitch around SBS is that it delivers many of the networking features used by large companies to smaller organisations. As it turned out, the needs of the CCI were more than met. When Brennan went to Ntes and Nick Whittome, an IT provider and member of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Programme, to deliver an IT system on a tight budget with very specific requirements, he got more than he bargained for – in a very positive sense.
“Nick came in and said he wasn’t installing Server 2003 until he’d seen our business plan, how many staff we were going to be taking on, who would be using it remotely. The whole lot. He made me sit down and explain our requirements. It was great but other experiences tell me that this quality of reseller is few and far between.”
So why SBS? “Last year we took a strategic decision to employ two field development people, one in Limerick and one in the West — to look after the 59 chambers between them,” explains Brennan. “Previously documents had to be emailed. Now they can access files from remote locations that are stored and backed up on our server. Remote access and access to shared information has rapidly improved our communications flow, responsiveness and ability to resolve issues quickly.
“Every Friday we have a teleconference call and while we’re talking we’re collaborating on a document over a shared drive,” explains Brennan. “They are involved in development work that ranges from remedial stuff to not reinventing the wheel. Sharing what other chambers are doing is very important.”
Another benefit is training: “Our big issue is constantly dragging staff to Dublin for meetings. We deal with very technical documents that needed regular training updates. We can now put a PowerPoint online and members can dial in to a teleconference where we’ll take them through the presentation.”
The information sharing, security and remote working capabilities of SBS are enabling CCI to successfully pursue its growth strategy and improve day-to-day efficiencies. “People intuitively now know where to find information,” says Brennan. “There is now a folder on the CCI network for every chamber in Ireland allowing meeting agendas and reports in relation to individual chambers to be filed and quickly made available to the relevant CCI staff. We now are vastly better at harvesting information from chambers around Ireland.”
By Ian Campbell