Flat-rate services case study: How to control your day-to-day costs

We recently spoke to over 250 IT managers about how they plan to gain better control over their day-to-day operational costs. To download a copy of the report, Back in the driving seat: Regaining control over SME costs click here.

The research showed that 2/3 of SMEs are looking to reduce their costs this year. But when asked how, 43% would sooner change their supplier than attempt to negotiate a better rate. One solution that was overlooked by almost all but a few IT managers was moving to a flat-rate service (in fact only 6% suggested it). A flat-rate service generally involves outsourcing a particular service to an external supplier who takes care of all the day-to-day variable costs, keeps the hardware running etc., but all for a flat rate fee. While most SMEs are used to paying a flat rate for their Internet access, they’re not used to, or simply may not be aware of, flat-rates for other services. Flat-rate printing is perhaps the least known option. Is it an IT manager’s best kept secret?

We have been working with HP to provide their flat-rate printing solution, HP QuickPage, for a while now. HP QuickPage is a new HP Managed Print Services (MPS) which rolls the hardware, installation, configuration, supplies, support and maintenance all into one simple contract with a pre-arranged monthly fee based on print usage.

But what is HP QuickPage actually like to use? To give you a better idea, we spoke to one of our HP QuickPage customers, Sibford School in Oxfordshire.

Set in more than 50 acres of grounds in the Oxfordshire countryside, Sibford School has approximately 420 pupils from the ages of 3 to 18. Sibford specialises in educating students with learning difficulties, particularly dyslexia, and with 150 staff, it delivers a very high staff/pupil ratio with the largest classes having only about 20 pupils.

The school procures much of its IT equipment through BT Business Direct and when it needed to replace one of its printers, its BT Business Direct account manager suggested that an HP QuickPage contract could be the answer for a number of reasons:
• Costs are predictable and transparent
• Administration is minimal so staff no longer need to take up their time on printers
• The school now has printers of a higher quality that it could not otherwise afford

When asked about his reasons for choosing the service, Martin Checkley, network manger at the school had this to say: “The main financial benefit of QuickPage is knowing that your outgoing money is going to be predictable, which is better than our previous situation when in some months, we would have to spend between £4,000 and £5,000 on toner cartridges. QuickPage agreements spread the cost of not only the unit but also the toner over the life of the agreement, which makes it much more manageable for us.”

“There were multiple reasons for us choosing QuickPage agreements,” says Checkley. “If you go for QuickPage you get not only the printer but also the installation and servicing if you need them. So long as you keep within the agreed number of pages a month, all the toner is included in the monthly charge as well. You know exactly what you are going to get throughout the lifetime of the printer and if it goes wrong it is replaced with another one. With QuickPage you have a direct debit in place which is very easy for our finance department to deal with.”

For more information about the service, visit the HP QuickPage section of our website here: http://www.businessdirect.bt.com/articles/promotions/products/hp-quickpage-8705.html

Dealing with the VAT rise – Advice for Businesses

As I’m sure you’re very much aware, the VAT rate in the United Kingdom rose from 17.5% to 20% on 4th January 2011. The rise is one of the many policies employed by the coalition government to reduce the UK’s record budget deficit. A change in VAT can be a logistical nightmare for businesses, so we’ve compiled this short summary of tips from across the web to  help you out:

The official guide: Practical advice from Business Link, the official government website for businesses

Top Tips to Prepare for the VAT Rise in January 2011: With so much to think about around the VAT rise, this short guide from Intuit focuses on the most importance aspects.

Tax dilemmas: This tax guide from smallbusiness.co.uk (the first of two) covers all aspects of small business taxes, but includes some advice on the VAT rise specifically.

VAT rise will be detrimental to small businesses: Not put here to scare you, this recent press release from the FSB lets you know what changes the organization is lobbying the government for to help small businesses cope with the change

Tech Review: The Samsung U250 All-In-One PC

We’ve recently been having a lot of fun with Samsung’s new All-In-One PCs. These beautiful super-slim PCs come packed with all the features you’d expect from a desktop PC today, but without the PC part. It’s all in the back of the monitor! They also boast large ‘multi-touch’ touchscreens, stretching their versatility to another level and taking your office one step closer to that all-important ‘Minority Report’ feel.

The Samsung All-In-One PC family currently comes in four different flavours, the U200, U250, U300 and U350 respectively. The first two are powered by Intel’s Core2Duo processors while the latter two sport the zippier Intel Core i3s. We have all models available online, but for the simplicity of this review, I will focus on the U250 as the one I have played with the most. It runs a 2.2Ghz Core2Duo processor, 4GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics with 512 MB RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. Smiling at you from the front (and hiding all its innards) is a glossy 23” ‘Full HD’ 1080p display. At the back you’ll find ample connectivity for your typical business user, with 6 USB 2.0 ports (one of which is eSATA for connecting an external hard drive), a DVI output (for running a 2nd monitor) and SD/MMC card reader – there’s even a little slot to store the stylus – something a little extra for those who prefer not to use your fingers on the screen. Networking-wise you’ll find the standard Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi.

So that’s the spec out of the way. What’s it actually like to use?

The screen
The screen is by far the U250’s most impressive feature. Samsung have built an enviable reputation for the outstanding screen quality of their TVs, and the U250 is no exception. The 23” screen dons a sleek black-gloss bezel and a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 making it ‘Full HD’. It’s smooth, with a 5ms response meaning that videos and games (not that you’d be playing much Call of Duty in the office anyway) look clear and sharp.

Performance
At a mere 44mm thick, there were bound to be definite limitations to the power that Samsung could squeeze into the back of this thing – but they’ve done a respectable job. It packs more than enough punch for all the typical office tasks that most users will throw at it (and many more demanding ones), but it will struggle with the likes of the most graphically intensive tasks like CAD, graphic design or HD video production. (Anyone serious enough about these things wouldn’t expect it to!).

The User-Experience
Setting up the U250 couldn’t be simpler. Samsung have managed to remove every cable they possibly can, leaving just one cable to plug in – the power cable. So until the National Grid find a way of beaming electricity into your house, Samsung couldn’t have made it any easier for you – just plug in the power lead and you’re good to go.

Set up is simple and straightforward, just as you’d expect with Windows 7 – using the touchscreen ‘right from the off’ in the start-up process – (nothing to install to enable it). The whole thing really comes alive when you start to utilise the touch screen – if you haven’t used the touchscreen functionality of Windows 7 before, you will be blown away. At least initially, Windows 7 was never really designed for touchscreens, so while it adds a layer of functionality and usability, you won’t want to throw your mouse away just yet. You certainly will however, find yourself using the touchscreen more and more and come to miss it when using non-touch PCs.

The All-In-One PC also comes bundled with Samsung’s proprietary touch software – ‘Play-touch 2.0’, which adds a fully touch-controlled Windows Media Centre style layer over the fairly limited Windows 7 OS. Play-touch 2.0 allows you to access your photos, music, movies, games and more in a much more intuitive and enjoyable way. This software makes the All-In-One PC a much more viable machine for running presentations or demos at a convention booth for example, or for leaving in reception for guests to browse through your interactive catalogue maybe?

In conclusion, the U250 is a beautiful-looking machine, from all angles, with a respectable amount of power. It won’t win any benchmark tests against much bulkier machines at this price, but if you’re looking for a stylish, multi-touchscreen-enabled machine, then the U250 is well worth a look.

Positives

  • Looks Great! The perfect front-of-house PC- is there really a computer in there?
  • Very well integrated and responsive multi-touch touchscreen
  • Superb Full-HD screen – everything you expect from top Samsung quality

Negatives

  • This model runs Intel Core2Duo, Intel’s older processors – turn to its bigger brothers for zippier Core i3 models, such as the U300 and U350 respectively
  • Relatively chunky wireless mouse? – ok I’m really nit-picking now!