Sunday, July 27, 2008

Change or Die

I first got the news on the way home last Thursday night. It seemed that one of the larger clients of my mother's bakeshop decided to "modernize" themselves and put together a new company-wide computer system (with a corresponding IT department). That meant that they were presumably moving any and all of their transactions to the digital world, post-haste.

That also meant that my mother landed in a meeting (along with the company's other suppliers) on Thursday. There, a young corporate hotshot told everyone, in no uncertain terms, that they were going to start placing their orders online starting on the first of August. Every supplier had to find the capacity to receive this client's orders via e-mail; otherwise they would get dropped.

I heard that there were quite a few complaints as a result; we are talking about a number of small-time suppliers here. In the end, however, everyone apparently left to their own devices, each one trying to figure out how to put together a full-blown IT setup in little more than a week.

In our case, however, the bakeshop only has one person who can vaguely be considered an IT consultant -- me. And when you're talking about pulling something like this together in a few days, there's very little time to bring anyone else in to help.

Fortunately, it looked like the whole thing wouldn't require more than a very basic setup. All that the accounts staff needed, I said, was a desktop computer and an Internet connection, and this would be far more efficient than getting someone to pass by an Internet café at least three times a day. Then there was the need for a printer (in order to maintain proper records), possibly a surge protector of some sort, and an increase in monthly expenses for both electricity and Internet. In short, we were looking at a total outlay of about fifty to sixty thousand pesos, with a little above a thousand pesos per month afterwards.

For a tiny bakeshop, this was much like prospecting for gold on the moon.

So if I've been doing anything for the past few days, I've been plotting out some cheaper alternatives. Getting a brand-new computer may now be out of the question, for instance, so I'm looking for relatives from whom we can beg or borrow the components. Assuming that we can find someone who's willing to give it away, an old laptop would be perfect for our purposes -- we wouldn't need to assemble the various bits and pieces from a sales warehouse, and it would be far easier to lock up at night for security reasons. In case we can't acquire such a laptop, I've found an old CPU that we can use, but it'll still need the other essentials -- a monitor, a bunch of cables and so forth -- in order to work.

The Internet connection is a little more difficult to iron out. The DSL services that I know of -- PLDT and Globelines -- normally have a waiting period; it'll take them some time before they can drop by and set up. The Bell Telecom connection that I use at home has a lot better service (as they're perfectly willing to put things together within one or two days of our call), but they remain the most expensive option on our list. I'm probably going to check and see if anyone still offers dial-up services out there, and even then that'll mean that I'll need to hunt down a modem that we can use. In any event, the resulting connection will definitely tie up one of the bakeshop's phone lines.

If my prices are the way I expect them to be, I don't expect that a printer will set us back too much. If anything, the prices for authentic ink cartridges are more likely to hit us harder than the printer itself. A surge protector shouldn't be too much of an issue, and there's already a budget for typewriting paper, so that's fine. I no longer advocate the use of diskettes as proper storage media at this point in time, but a low-end flashdisk shouldn't be too expensive either.

Then there's the incidentals: I'll need to check the bakeshop's electrical outlets to see if we have enough to run the computer; I've gotten a few contacts who can perform reformatting, reinstallation and repairs if needed; and I'll probably reserve my time for a couple of days to make sure that the accounts staff knows how to work the darn thing.

For a few minutes I also considered how much time and effort it would take to send that young corporate hotshot a viral bomb, to show him what I thought of his "modernization efforts". But I figure that it wasn't entirely his fault, and that it was the corporation itself that spent three years setting up its IT system only to let us know barely a week before its launch. It's unjust, and it's got horrible timing... but when we're up against twenty-odd suppliers who have to cope with the change, and I'd rather do something constructive rather than complain.

Besides, there'll be plenty of time for petty concerns after we finish the new IT setup. It'll give me something to look forward to, in any case.


Dominique said...

I don't see why it has to hit P60,000. You can probably get a small home/office setup for under P15,000.

Spacewise, you should probably consider getting an old laptop. You can get second-hand models for under P10,000.

You can get a decent printer for P2,500. I'm using an Epson C90 (now converted for CISS).

Operating system: Ubuntu. Trust me, if they've never used a computer before, they won't care if its Windows or Linux.

I'd say go for broadband, but if you don't want to pay the additional P300 per month (usually how much it costs on top of the phone line), you can use prepaid dial up phone cards. Might need to get an external modem as Linux has problems with built-in modems. Another P2,000 at most.

Dominique said...

If modem, it won't have to tie up your phone lines. Just dial on-demand. Set up an account in Google so you can use its POP3 or IMAP mail services (download mail to local client.)

Sean said...

Dominique: P60k was my first estimate, and that assumed brand-new parts, components and connections for an office that hasn't seen anything remotely technological beyond an electric fan and an AM/FM radio. In a sense, I was looking at a formal office setup that was likely to last a couple of years minimum.

The laptop was the first option we followed, although instead of the P10k outlay, we're trying to get a second-hand one for free from a relative. The printer isn't much of a worry, either -- I got mine for P2.3k. :)

While Ubuntu is definitely a good choice for an operating system (since it won't kick us in the teeth for P15k or so), I'm far more adept at navigating the pitfalls of Windows than I have experience with Ubuntu. Time is pretty short right now, and that equalizes things a bit.

I'm trying to figure out a solution to the modem / phone line problem, though, since even an on-demand dialing setup runs the risk of missing a few calls. There's the possibility of a wireless connection, but that'll cost more money in monthly fees.

I'll check out Google's IMAP services in the meantime. I haven't fiddled with Gmail's settings in a while...

Dominique said...

An alternative is Smart's prepaid broadband service. Since you're decided on using Windows anyway, it should be easy enough to set up.

Anonymous said...

Is your only concern getting the email orders? The easiest and most cost effective would be to use a cellphone for that. Smart offers 20 pesos for 30 minutes of GPRS.

Sean said...

Dominique: Hey, I didn't say that I was set on using Windows. :) If we could get our hands on somebody who can do an Ubuntu (and possibly Open Office) setup, then that would be great.

Anonymous: That sounds intriguing, actually. I'd have to check if anybody in accounts has a cellphone advanced enough to be able to access the Net, though.

Dominique said...

Getting email over the phone is a bad idea. I've had problems connecting to Google and Yahoo in the past. Moreover, it's always ended up costing me more than the published P10 per 30 minute rate. I think Smart adds some gateway conversion fee on top of that. Very bad.

Sean said...

Dominique: I think that it's still worth considering as a possibility, only I now realize that it won't necessarily bring about the vision of a "modern office" for the bakeshop by itself.

I have to admit that I'm a little leery about the telcos, though. Connection problems and additional fees sound very much like the corporations that we all know and love.