A Free Research Team - Value IT Support

How do you know what people are saying about you online?  What are they saying about your customers and competitors?

Use a search engine I hear you say, but do you really want spend your time doing all sorts of search queries just to keep tabs on this, even though it’s important?  If your budgets stretch that far, you could of course hire a research team to do this for you.

Another approach, which is free, is to use “Google Alerts” to do the bulk of the work for you.  This is an easy to use service from Google that can automatically email you the results of a search query, as new results are found.  You simply set up an alert with your search query (eg “Acme Washers”) and whenever Google finds results that match, it will send you an email with the relevant links.  You can also have your results grouped into daily and weekly emails to avoid overload.

To set up your alerts, all you need is a Google account and an email address, then visit

Google Account

To use Google Alerts you will need a Google account (this can also give you a Gmail email address if you want one).  If you haven’t got a Google account then you can sign up at It’s all pretty self-explanatory and you can opt to just use your own email address as the username for your account.

If you opt for a Gmail address (they can be quite handy as a backup), it can be a good idea to set up forwarding so that email sent to your Gmail address also ends up in your usual email account. You can set up forwarding using the “Settings” link when you are logged into Gmail.  When the settings page is displayed, just click the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” link and choose the forwarding options you need.  There are a host of other useful (free) things you can do with a standard Gmail account, but perhaps that’s for another post.

Google Alerts

Once you’ve signed in to you set up your alert by entering your search term eg “Acme Washers” and choosing where you want your results delivered.  You also have the option of specifying which elements of Google to search along with the frequency and volume of the results.  From here you can also manage any of the alerts you have already set up and the “Google Alerts Help” links gives clear and useful advice on using the service.

It’s as easy as that.

To illustrate how useful this can be: one of our customers recently found out via a Google Alert, that they had been very well reviewed in an independent newspaper and online article. They were delighted to then be able to capitalise on the review in their own marketing activities.

We’re often asked whether there is such a thing as Bing alerts, an equivalent service to Google alerts but driven by Microsoft’s Bing search engine.  The nearest equivalent I can find is Bing News Alerts (which limits searches to the “News” section of Bing). I’ve even heard rumours that the good folks at Microsoft use Google Alerts to keep tabs on things! Perhaps someone can let me know if this really is true.


Value IT Support

It's well known that most IT support consists of switching it off and back on again and, if that still doesn't sort things out, Googling (or Binging) the error message.

As someone who delivers professional IT support for living, I would suggest that the real expertise is in knowing whether to switch it off in the first place and which of the 2,740,000 results that the search engine delivered can really help you solve the problem.

In a way, it is like the old tale of an engineer called in by a factory boss to fix a piece of machinery.  It had broken down, brought the entire factory to a halt and, in spite of days of effort, no one in the organisation could get it started again.  After examining the machine and much thoughtful consideration, the engineer hit it with a hammer and it sprang back to life.  When asked what the charge for his services would be, he replied £1000.  The factory boss exclaimed in no uncertain terms that he thought £1000 was excessive for just hitting something with a hammer.  To which the engineer explained that the charge for hitting the machine with the hammer was only £10, providing the expertise to know where to hit it was £990.

And the point of this is?

If you are involved in supporting the IT which helps run your business, we'd like to share some of our expertise with you and help you choose which of those 2,740,000 Google results can actually solve your problem and provide real value IT support. 

There are some incredibly useful tools and techniques available to help support IT in your business and many of them are free or very reasonably priced.  So look out for "Value IT Support" in our future posts – you'll find they include some real IT support expertise that you won't be charged for!


Second Tuesday of the month – should we reboot Russia?

If you have ever written a piece of software and given it to a group of people to use (even an Excel macro), you'll know the buzz from seeing them use something you've created to help make their work easier. I've been in the software development business since the 80's and even today I still get a kick when I visit a customer site and see a group of people working away using software we've written to help them run their company.

You'll also know the sinking feeling you get when you discover a bug in your software. Yes, it happens to everyone – even the best developers..  Then, once you've fixed it, you have the challenge of making sure everyone gets and installs your fix.  All part and parcel of modern software development and all professional development teams have ways of getting fixes out as seamlessly and reliably as possible.

Now, imagine you're part of Microsoft and your software is used on literally millions of PCs across the globe.  The sinking feeling on finding a bug, especially  if that bug represents a security hole, must be so much worse.

Fortunately, Microsoft has an organisation in place to cope with this eventuality.  In true MS fashion it's known as the MSRC (Microsoft Security Response Center) and the person whose job it is to make sure the fixes get to the people who need them, is a gentleman by the name of Dustin Childs.  As well as being technically very able, Dustin is also a great story teller and this video presentation gives you a peek into his world.

It's a world that revolves around the second Tuesday of each month when Microsoft issues their security updates, which in the UK we usually see on the second Wednesday of each month!  An environment where you know that 400 million PCs are on "auto update" and will automatically reboot tomorrow if needed and where you can literally reboot the PCs of a whole country if necessary - reboot Russia anyone?

The systems and processes in place for this are mind boggling and involve incredible amounts of testing before things are issued.  For example a single windows update will involve  testing the fix against over 9000 third party software applications! 

As Dustin freely admits in his blog things are not always 100% perfect all the time, however the efforts they put in to find and resolve problems are admirable.

So next time your windows update asks to restart your PC, think of Dustin and his team.Windows update requesting a PC restart

If you have 25 minutes to spare, I would highly recommend sitting down with a mug of coffee and watching Dustin's presentation and look out for the Microsoft to Facebook telephone call.

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