One of my favorite “guilty pleasures” is to turn on the HGTV network on a Sunday evening, and watch Mike Holmes renovate a house.  For those who don’t know who he is, let me explain.  Mike is a professional contractor, based in Canada, who demands that others in the building trade live up to their word.  He often appears at a lovely house where the homeowners describe some kind of problem that they have experienced with their builder, contractor, or building inspector.  Mike investigates the problem, turns up more horrors than the owners had imagined, and then – with a large, very skilled, crew – proceeds to demolish things and fix them up better than new.

I revel in this kind of reality television because it resonates with me.  In my job, people often call upon me to fix some kind of computer mess.  For me, there are two kinds:  home computer users and small businesses.

When I work with home computer users, it is often a matter of asking a few questions, and then working through a series of decision boxes.  Does the computer have this or that software, problem, or malware?  Does the computer respond when this setting is used or not?  Has this selection been checked in the program properties or not?  It gets to be repetitive sometimes, but there is a basic flow and I can resolve most problems in about an hour.  It takes me longer to clean up malware because I use three different system scans.

On the other hand, small businesses present a greater challenge for me because more of them resemble “Holmes on Homes” situations.  At this point, the reality show becomes “Larry on Laptops.”

I have seen computer servers built with wonderful specifications, and yet implemented in the least effective manner.  For example, in one case, a company had a server with two power units.  This is often used in mission-critical environments where the loss of the server would curtail all business practices.  Having two power systems lets one unit fail while the other continues.  Yet, these power systems were attached to two different types of UPS systems!  If you are going to match power systems on the server, you have to match UPS systems to protect them.

I have seen a recent instance where a company’s server was attached to a power strip – which offers no protection from electrical glitches.  In another case, a potential client had his company’s computers hidden inside a closet – where there was insufficient airflow to keep them cooled.  On yet another occasion, I saw an entire office run on a Windows XP PC instead of a server because the office manager was told “it could be done.”

And these problems are just on the surface!  When I dig a little deeper, more problems often appear.  Like the company that had a recurring problem with viruses on different network computers – but had no centralized network antivirus program!  Or the case of a company that had a wonderful back-up system that copied everything from the main hard drive to another drive for back-up – but lacked the software to restore any single file!

Like Mike, the more work I do for a client, the more I turn up things that other computer consultants did that just do not make sense.  So what do I have to do?  I have to explain to the business owner that there might have been a reason for the “other guy” to have done it, but that to get everything to work correctly now, I have to rip things out and replace them.  However, unlike the “Holmes Inspector” show, which never discusses how long or how much the changes will cost, I have to say, “Look, it is going to take this long and cost this much.”

With the economy was sloshing around in the bottom of the boat, a lot of small business owners simply did not have an excessive amount of capital to spare on their computer systems (which probably got them in their current mess in the first place – but don’t get me started…).

Yet, when I am done, my work ends up lasting longer than the “other guy’s.”  This is the core difference between Mike Holmes’ approach to houses and my approach to computers and networks.

Mike can work on plumbing, electrical, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), roofing, and a house’s structure.  When he is done, it is very clear that the problem has been fixed.  His crew does incredibly intricate and beautiful work.  Yet in all of my years watching his shows, I don’t recall ever seeing one where he comes back after a period of time to see how the homeowners are doing with his fixes.

On the other hand, my clients have computer systems that are continuously in use and require constant upkeep.  That is why I urge my clients to subscribe to my SPF maintenance plan (for home computer users) or to my SHADE maintenance plan (for small businesses).  This software lets me know – before there is a problem – when I have to get involved and do something.  Otherwise, the software takes care of routine tasks that computer users should not have to bother with.

And that’s a key difference – I am always trying to make your computer use easier and better.  And I have to keep up a constant state of vigilance to make sure that your antivirus protection is up-to-date, your Windows updates are applied when necessary, and that your third-party software (Adobe Acrobat Reader and Java) is updated regularly.

Will I ever have a reality show on HGTV?  No, I don’t think so.  For one thing, computer support can be pretty boring.  After all, once the hard work of doing the initial analysis is complete, and the correct foundation has been put in place, my maintenance plans do the rest.

And that is another key difference.  Unlike Mike, I will come back to my business clients each quarter to review their plans to ensure their computer networks are going to be able to support their future growth.  I reach out to my home computer users on a regular basis to make sure their computers are running properly and without any glitches.

In closing, I have an announcement.  For those customers who have not yet subscribed to a maintenance plan, I have the following special offer:  During of February, I will waive the set-up fee for the first 5 home computer users or small businesses that contact me to subscribe to an SPF plan for their home computers or a SHADE plan for their business.

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