What’s in a name?

As you read in my last post, I’ve certainly moved out of nonprofit sector. In light of that, the naming convention of this blog is certainly not consistent with my role.  When I began this blog, the purpose was to provide opinions and (hopefully) useful technology information for those working in the nonprofit sector.  I definitely have a desire to see nonprofits succeed with technology and to use it to improve their work experience and their productivity.  Continue reading

Life changes

Over the past few months, there have been a lot of changes in our family.First, we celebrated the birth of our first child in April. There’s quite a long story behind our journey to parenthood, but we are happy and blessed to have our son with us.

Secondly, over the past 6-8 months, I’ve felt a stirring to begin a change in career. Just like everyone who’s ever changed jobs, there were certainly multiple factors to my desire for the next step. The first key for me was realizing that I was on autopilot. Some of you have spent time on this site discussing RDS implementations and issues, and once our implementation was done, due to budget constraints, we were unable to pursue any new projects. This left me in a position of being on autopilot because no new projects or tasks were being done. This, to me, is difficult to maintain over an extended period of time, and drove me to begin the process of searching for my next challenge.

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Kiosk Mode for Windows + SSO for RDP (part 2)

Last time we looked at Kiosk Mode for WES 7. This can also be used for Windows 7 Professional installs, and I plan to test with XP in the future. That could help provide low-cost kiosks for almost any scenario (libraries, church public use PCs, etc).

Today, however, I wanted to go through my struggles with SSO with RDS. My initial thought was that I didn’t want any prompt on the user screen, I wanted the ‘typical’ Windows Server 2008 R2 login screen as shown below. Continue reading

Kiosk Mode for Windows + SSO for RDP (part 1)

This will be a multi-part series on implementing thin clients (or thick clients) with a kiosk mode connecting to an Remote Desktop Services (RDS) farm with Single Sign On (SSO).  I hope to help consolidate 12+ hours of research, testing and configuration changes over the past few weeks, with most of that being this week as we began finalizing our implementation plan for 45 new thin clients.  I hope this is helpful to someone who may be thinking about a similar project, or maybe implement items learned here for something completely different.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to find the solution to this problem for our thin client implementation, and only after several weeks of trial and error was I able to piece together multiple bits of knowledge to accomplish my goal.

Project:
Deploying 45 new thin clients to two of our facilities. Continue reading

What is your biggest technology struggle as a non-profit/small business?

The Importance of [good] Project Management and Communication

I know it’s been a long time since I last posted…and for that I apologize.  Now that life has settled down a bit, I’m able to dedicate a little time to this…that being said, let’s dive right in!

I am constantly reminded of the need for a client to have a good project manager, especially when working between multiple vendors.   Most software vendors have project managers that will work directly with the client on a particular project or task (depending on the size and scope of the task), but when multiple software vendors are involved, many times the customer gets lost in the shuffle if they aren’t careful to have a strong project manager.  From the customer’s perspective, setting proper (and realistic) expectations from the beginning is key.

Scenario:

Scope: Vendor A and Vendor B build a bi-directional interface to share information across the two applications.
Expectations: Vendor A configures interface for both applications, Vendor B will verify complete implementation and schedule training with the client.
Initial Estimated Timeline: 2-3 weeks after initial install

Actual Process:

Day 1-3:  Vendor A completes the interface installation, and informs the client that everything is complete.   Vendor B completes first set of tests and finds 2 bugs which need to be addressed by Vendor A.  Customer is given the steps necessary to verify bugs are fixed.

Day 5-7: Vendor A resolves first set of bugs, Customer tests and verifies.

Day 8: Customer discovers that Flat file from Software A is needed to import into Software B.  Requests the appropriate format from Vendor B and sends to Vendor A.

Day 14-19: Vendor A creates flat file and imports into Software B. Customer finds possible bug, requests information from Vendor A.  Vendor A states all information is correct, asks for Vendor B to verify completion.

Day 20: Vendor B verifies import was correct, but bug that customer found does exist.  Vendor B and customer confirm exact problem and provides documentation to Vendor A.

Day 24-31 – Vendor A resolves final bugs and releases client for training.

 

What you don’t see in this process is the dozens of emails from the client to both vendors and multiple phone calls that took place to resolve the various issues that should have been taken care of on Day 1.  Imagine this process without a client advocate [read: project manager] to manage this process and maintain the information flow between both vendors and the client.   Without diligent communication and follow-through by the project manager, what would have happened is that on Day 1 when Vendor A completed their steps, the client would have called to schedule their training with Vendor B.

This is because the client assumes that Vendor A and Vendor B have already done this process hundreds of times, and that everyone already knows what they’re doing.  Unfortunately, there are too many variables in software implementations that what may seem simple (even to technical staff) is not necessarily so simple.

As you can see from this scenario, it took 31 days rather than the 14-21 days that were originally estimated.  According to both vendors, 14-21 days was a very exaggerated time-frame, as the process was “simple” to finish.   In this case, it wasn’t so simple.  To me this stresses the importance of a project manager on the client side of the project.  It helps for that person to be knowledgeable enough to actually get involved in the nuts and bolts of the implementation to keep both vendors honest.

This is an important part of the vendor-customer relationship going past the project, because a smooth, timely project helps create a positive relationship for both the client and the vendor(s).   Remember all those vendors who couldn’t manage a project to save their lives?  I sure do.  In fact, I’ve even been on the vendor side of the unmanageable projects that turn out to be a nightmare because of any number of reasons.   No vendor ever tries to create a project that doesn’t go smoothly, so anything the customer can do to help the process is extremely important.

Since I try to focus on nonprofit organizations here, I know that a staff member dedicated to project management can be quite expensive and that’s not necessarily feasible for each organization.   If I had any advice for those looking at upcoming projects or even current projects, it would be to find the person that is your “Super User” (for application projects, etc.) or is one of the folks that this project is designed to benefit (stakeholders) to be involved in the project management, even if only in a limited scope.  It’s important that the person involved has a stake in the success of the project, because that gives them motivation to see the project come to a timely, successful completion.  And while project timeliness is important, a complete and successful project that is 3 days over the due date is better than a project that’s on-time but has many outstanding issues that will ultimately carry past the due date to resolve or cause significant technical, operational or logistical problems in the future.

If you are needing technical assistance with project management for vendors, please feel free to get in touch with me.  I have a consulting company that specializes in Information Technology needs for small to medium-sized organizations, and project management is something I do as part of my consulting.

A discussion on desktop security

Desktop security can be very frustrating for IT professionals as we try to find the delicate balance between security and user experience.  Most end users take things for granted and don’t realize the potential danger that lays in wait in advertising and other lovely pop-ups that warn of impending doom of their computer or hard drive that must be saved by this “free” software!

For those that wonder how this may apply to nonprofits, just remember that productivity is just as vital (if not more) in the nonprofit world as it is in the corporate world.  Having lost time due to a virus outbreak is annoying, but lost or stolen data, downtime because your ISP has turned off your internet access due to SPAM emails being sent out, etc. is much more than just annoying. It can take a lot of time to rectify the virus problem, and that doesn’t include the network cleanup, ISP phone calls and calls to customers or donors letting them know their data was either lost or stolen.

Antivirus software such as Symantec, ESET NOD32, or my personal favorite, Vipre Enterprise, can only do so much with a persistent user who really wants to install that free software.  There’s only one sure way to prevent that software from being installed – and that’s to prevent the user from installing it at all.

This is probably one thing that most IT staff (volunteer or paid) get soft on with their end users – local admin rights. Being a local administrator, for those that don’t know, gives you the “keys to the castle” to make all system/registry/file changes, which also allows any software you install to make those changes.  Virus, spyware and other malicious software (well, all software, actually) will run within the security context of the logged in user.  This means, to continue the key analogy, that any virus that attempts to run on your computer has access to everything door/room that you do.  Microsoft notes this on many, if not all, of their security patches in a statement similar to this:

“An attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could gain the same user rights as the local user.  Users whose accounts are configured to have fewer user rights on the system could be less impacted than users who operate with administrative user rights.”

For management, power users and even IT personnel, it’s fairly often that software needs to be installed, updated or system changes made for a variety of reasons, so local administrator access is really the default in most people’s network configuration.  Step 1 – Join PC to Domain, Step 2 – Add user to local Administrators group.  The alternative is to log off and then log back in with an administrative user to make any system changes. This is not only annoying, but it’s also inefficient.  However, virus outbreaks, as I noted earlier,  are much more costly.

In my network, I apply the following principles:  1) No local administrators unless a specific application requires it (there are some older applications that do require it).; 2) Use Restricted Groups in Group Policy to assign workstation administrator accounts (that are not domain administrators) to all PCs within the domain.; 3) Use Vipre Enterprise for antivirus and malware protection.

Restricted Groups are a very powerful tool in Group Policy to assign users to specific groups on a local machine, but they must be used carefully.  Restricted Groups is a wipe/replace setting, which means that any user(s) you put in the local Administrator group will replace the existing users.  So be sure to add the “Administrator” account in addition to any domain accounts you would like to add to the Administrators group.  More information is available from Microsoft here (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc785631(WS.10).aspx).

For those that don’t have any special applications that require administrative permissions can feel free to quit reading now, as I know this is long-winded.  But for those that want to implement these security measures but have some older applications that require local administrator access, keep reading for tips on that.

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