Wednesday, 12 June 2019

When did you last check your server backup?

There's an old saying in IT... a backup is worthless if you don't regularly check it and try to restore from it.

With so many companies now outsourcing their servers to the cloud - either Amazon, Google or Microsoft - it is easy to become complacent and assume that backups are automatically done and checked.  In most cases, though, this won't be the case and the cloud server provider will only offer a backup and restore service for an extra fee.  If you're not paying that fee, you probably don't have a backup!

For our asbestos software (Alpha Tracker) clients, if we have organised the hosting in Amazon or Fasthosts for you we will also be backing up your data and we will be testing those backups, typically monthly.  We are now writing to our clients every quarter to confirm the backup situation so that there is no doubt or potential for confusion.

However, if you have organised your own in-house server, or are paying Amazon or Fasthosts yourself for a cloud server, do not assume that "someone" will be backing up your server and regularly checking it can be restored.  Check your arrangements as a matter of urgency and make doubly sure that your backup is in place and secure.

If you need any help or advice, please do contact Elaine in the office and she will be able to assist.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

New orders for asbestos systems for UK power stations

We're pleased to announce that we've received new orders for our Alpha Tracker asbestos system for use in several UK power stations.

Alpha Tracker is now used by a huge range of organisations, from the core market of asbestos consultancies and asbestos surveyors, right through to the energy industry and even one of the UK's largest corporations with a £2bn turnover.

Further information will be posted when we have clearance from our clients.

Friday, 7 June 2019

How is our support desk performing?

Each month we blog our Start Software Support Desk stats so you can see how we are performing.

The answer is... pretty well! 

Support Stats to May 2019

For high priority problems, we are consistently solving them within the timescales set by our clients 93% of the time.  That's pretty impressive given that we take 200+ calls of this nature a month.

For all other calls (on average, 300-400 a month), the figure is more like 87%, but that's still pretty good.

Remember... we're the only asbestos software provider to offer 24 hour, 7 day a week, personal support to our clients.  You can call or email us as often as you want.  That's how important it is to us that you are pleased to have chosen Alpha Tracker from Start Software for your asbestos system needs.

Thinking of moving from physical to virtual servers?

Physical servers were once the only option.  A big, expensive, complex computer would be purchased, configured and installed by technicians and would sit up the corner of an office, humming away merrily keeping a company's IT running.

The problem is that physical device can and do break.  Hard disks can fail. Servers can be damaged or even stolen.  And as time moves on, what was once a leading edge server can seem terrribly slow as the demands of the operating system, software and the business itself grow.

The solution can be virtualisation, where the physical element is eliminated.  Virtual servers use shared hardware to protect against failure, and can be upgraded or enhanced with only a click or two of a mouse.  In most other respects they operate just like a real server and they are normally the first choice for our Alpha Tracker asbestos software clients now.

But what happens if you want to switch from physical to virtual, is that possible?  It is, and we are doing an increasing number of these moves for our clients.  In fact, Jack completed one last week and we received this lovely comment from a client about the move:
"Thank you very much for all the work on this.  It went off seemlessly and professionally.  I very much appreciate it Kind regards Don"
So - do get in touch if you think that it is time you moved your system to a virtual server and we can explain the process and give you a quote.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Asbestos software client grateful for help after server crash

One of our Alpha Tracker asbestos software clients recently suffered a catastrophic server hardware failure and we have been supporting them to help get their system back online as quickly as possible. 

It has been a difficult time for all concerned, not least because the server company's level of customer service fell far short of what was expected.  However, after lots of hard work from our software installation and support staff we have recovered the situation and today we received this lovely comment from our client's Managing Director:
"Can I take this opportunity to thank you and the team for all the help and assistance you have provided over the last few weeks, yourself and all the team at Start provided great support and excellent customer service through what was a challenging period."

It's a reminder, of course, that servers do fail and that you need to be absolutely confident that backup and restore processes are in place and regularly tested.  If you have any doubts about your own system, now is a good time to check!

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Adam's 40th at the "Start Software pub", the George & Dragon

Developer Adam has just turned 40!  He's been with the company for longer than any of us like to remember and we celebrated his birthday at our director Robin's pub, the George & Dragon in Much Wenlock.

Adam with 4 candles - 40 wouldn't fit!
If you're passing Much Wenlock (it's between Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury on the A458), do call in to the George & Dragon and you'll get a warm welcome.  You might even get a discount if you mention Robin to the bar staff!

The George & Dragon, Much Wenlock

Thursday, 16 May 2019

More information about Alpha Draw - our site planning drawing tool for Alpha Tracker

The new Alpha Draw site plan module (that we have been blogging about all year!) was launched as part of Alpha Tracker Release 30 and is getting an increasing amount of use.

Alpha Draw is integrated with asbestos software Alpha Tracker to provide an easy way to produce simple plans or drawings and send them in to the appropriate project in Alpha Tracker.

Please get in contact if you would like to try Alpha Draw - you can download it from the Google Play Store as a free app and the SupportTeam then need to perform a quick setup step and provide you with your password so that you can begin using it.

We have created Alpha Draw to work best on tablet devices so that the asbestos surveyor has enough “work space” to draw plans of different sizes. 

You can quickly draw the shape of a room, add windows, doors and other features, even furniture too!

Finally, add your sample points before automatically uploading the drawing to the Alpha Tracker project.

Example of a site plan under construction

Once you have sent a drawing in, it is amendable from both the app and from the web version of Alpha Draw which you can access from Alpha Tracker. 

A new option, “Open Alpha Draw” on the Choose Task menu on Survey Details, opens the drawing in the web version of Alpha Draw.

The new Alpha Draw menu option within Alpha Tracker

There is a short, separate user guide available for Alpha Draw. Contact Support if you would like a copy or click here to download it yourself.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Are you having problems with Google Maps in Alpha Tracker?

Are you seeing problems with maps in Alpha Tracker?  Either the map is showing Boston, USA as the location or perhaps you're seeing an error message on the screen instead of the map itself?

Is Google showing the location of all your Alpha Tracker sites as Boston, USA?
If you are having problems, please accept our apologies.  We've been caught out by a change that Google has made to their mapping engine and we're having to patch Alpha Tracker to fix it.

We're on the case and should have a solution within the next week or so.

Contact our support desk for more information.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Alpha Tracker Release 30 - nearly 300 new features, bug fixes and performance updates

Release 30 of our asbestos software Alpha Tracker has finally arrived as a public release.  I was starting to wonder whether Brexit would happen before Release 30 did...

It's our biggest update yet with nearly 300 changes, including:

- complete integration with AlphaDraw, our site drawing tool

- improved CRM facilities

- new features in the diary and scheduler to make it quicker and easier to use

- improvements and new features in the Client Portal, and

- more opportunities for the system to send automatic emails to staff and clients.

Here is a quick video to introduce Release 30 to you:

The 21-page PDF of the release notes is available here ready for you to read, download, print and keep with your Quality Manual.

(you can read about the previous release of asbestos software Alpha Tracker, Release 29, here)

Don't forget to give us your ideas for Release 31 which will be coming up in early summer - contact us via our website.

Friday, 29 March 2019

New Alpha software development project under way - in New York

We're well known in the Alpha software development community for our ability to develop and deliver quality software on time and to budget.

We've started working with a new client with offices in the Empire State Building and the views are simply incredible.  What a place to work!

Meeting with the clients to review the software

What a view!

It's a long way down...

More organisations are switching to Alpha Tracker to manage their asbestos

We've had an incredible four (4) new orders for asbestos software Alpha Tracker in a week!

Alpha Tracker's 6 key benefits
Two of the orders have come in from asbestos consultancies wanting to switch from other systems.  They have heard about our 24x7 personal support and "partner" approach to working, and want to move away from their current platforms.

The other two Alpha Tracker orders are from large organisations with many sites who will be using Alpha Tracker to manage asbestos within their property portfolio.

Looks like we've got a busy spring ahead of us, but we're always pleased to talk to other potential new customers so do get in touch if you think we can help you with your asbestos problem.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Central Demolition develop their Alpha Tracker skills further

The asbestos specialists at Central Demolition in Bonnybridge enjoyed an Alpha Tracker workshop last week, helping them to develop their skills and to get the most from their asbestos management system.

Technical staff reviewing asbestos data on their tablets

Central Demolition's training suite is second-to-none
Central Demolition have been helping their clients with asbestos issues since 1993 and are members of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC) and the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA).  They hold a wide range of other memberships and accreditations, and are multiple award winners.  In addition, they are certified to the ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environmental) and OHSAS 18001 (health & safety) standards.

The Central Demolition website

Friday, 8 March 2019

Asbestos specialists Robertson McGregor go live with Alpha Tracker

Specialist asbestos consultancy Robertson McGregor has gone live with their choice of asbestos software, Alpha Tracker.

Fife-based Robertson McGregor provide asbestos services across Scotland and have an incredibly experienced management team with 50 years of experience between them.  Not only do they hold ARCA management certificates, they also have a Gas Safe registration and their staff are P402 asbestos qualified.

The staff at Robertson McGregor are looking forward to using Alpha Tracker and Tracker Mobile... welcome to the Alpha Tracker family!

(photos from the training sessions follow)

Monday, 4 March 2019

New Alpha Tracker order from New Zealand asbestos lab

Judy & Leanne in our Adelaide Alpha Tracker office have just received another order from a new New Zealand asbestos lab.

The directors of the lab have used asbestos software Alpha Tracker before as well as our main competitor product - and in their new business they have chosen Alpha Tracker to meet their needs.  That's what we like to hear!

If we can help your asbestos consultancy in the UK, New Zealand, Australia or elsewhere... please get in touch!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Airsafe celebrate NATA success with asbestos lab system Alpha Tracker

Asbestos lab and environmental consultancy Airsafe is celebrating a successful NATA reinspection - the first since deploying asbestos software Alpha Tracker.

Airsafe proudly shows the NATA logo on their excellent website

Manager Simon Gorham told Judy from our Adelaide office that "NATA were happy with the security, user interface and traceability of the software. Airsafe is now fully compliant with the updated version of ISO17025:2017".

NATA compliance is the Australian equivalent of UKAS accreditation in the UK - a tough process but one that is very familiar to most of our UK Alpha Tracker asbestos consultancy clients.

We're delighted for our friends and partners at Airsafe - congratulations from us all.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Is your username appearing in random boxes in Alpha Tracker?

Have you noticed your username appearing in random boxes in asbestos software Alpha Tracker recently?

For example, I just logged into Alpha Tracker as "Dan", and - look - "Dan" has appeared in our menu searcher... a box which should be empty:

The logged-in username has appeared in the search box

The culprit is the latest update to the web browser Chrome, version 72.  Chrome is trying to be helpful and is auto-filling the username into what it thinks is a login box... but its logic is wrong and it is putting the username into the wrong box!

It is likely that Google will fix a future release of Chrome, but, in the meantime, you can either use Edge (the browser from Microsoft) to access Alpha Tracker, or contact our support desk to see if we have a patch available.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

No more A380s - I'm sad! Heathrow-Perth was amazing but the Dreamliner is simply no comparison

If you're not a transport nerd, stop reading now!  My love for technology doesn't stop at computers and writing software... I'm also fascinated with trains, ships and aeroplanes too and absolutely love the Airbus A380 double-decker superjumbo in particular.

The incredible Airbus A380
When I work in our Adelaide Alpha Tracker asbestos software office with Judy & Leanne, a highlight of the journey is the A380 from Manchester or Birmingham to Dubai.  It is whisper-quiet, roomy, sophisticated and such a relaxing way to travel even in economy seats.  On the occasions I've upgraded to business it is simply awesome with comfortable lie-flat beds, superb food and a bar - yes, an actual bar - at the back of the upper deck to relax in.

At Dubai, I have to switch to a Boeing 777 on to Adelaide and it is always such a disappointment.  In comparison, it is noisy and cramped and feels nothing like the Airbus.  So, like many other frequent flyers, I'm gutted with today's news that the A380 is stopping production 14 years early.

The main competition for the superjumbo Airbus is the new Boeing 787 "Dreamliner".  I've just flown the Heathrow - Perth direct flight for the first time to spend a few days with Judy in Perth and, for sure, a 9000 mile journey is an incredible human engineering achievement but despite the 787 having special lighting, higher cabin pressure, and a special menu to help make the journey an easier one, I was struck at how it was nowhere near the experience of the A380.

So why has the A380 been a relative failure (despite passengers loving it) with only a few airlines taking it on and only Emirates placing really big orders?  The main cause is fuel efficiency.  The A380 has four engines whereas the 787 only needs two in order to travel similar distances, albeit with far fewer customers, and therefore needs less fuel (and fewer passengers) for a successful flight.

So, in a way, it's gone the way of Concorde and another of my favourites, the HSS ferries.  A technological masterpiece crippled by the cost of fuel.  The A380s in service will keep flying for many years to come but I'm sad today that an engineering marvel is coming to an end, and very sad for the Airbus workforce in the UK who build its enormous wings.

Alpha Tracker Release 30 is nearly ready (fingers crossed)... this time we mean it!!

We blogged last month ( to say that asbestos software Alpha Tracker Release 30 was nearly ready but to get in touch if you wanted any extra features "squeezed in".  How you responded!!!

Fingers crossed we've packed the last feature in!

Well, we've added another 25 features into this release following your feedback and we're in the final stages of testing now.  Dan has just built Release Candidate 8 of this update for Judy and Leanne to check over.  Shouldn't be long now!

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Another Alpha Tracker order placed by a Sydney (Australia) asbestos consultancy

I'm working this week from Perth with Judy from our Australian asbestos software business, Alpha Tracker Pty.

Robin outside 100 Havelock Street, Perth, our Alpha Tracker base for the week
It's great to see that Judy and Leanne are so busy with new orders and just this morning an email arrived from an asbestos consultancy in Sydney wanting to place an order for asbestos software Alpha Tracker.  What's especially comforting is that most orders arriving are from personal recommendation - users are switching to us from competitor systems because they have heard about our industry-leading 24x7 personal support and our mature attitude to doing business.

We'll blog again when the consultancy goes live and has had their 1-1 training session. 

Can we help your Australian consultancy to become more efficient and save hours of admin time with every asbestos report produced?  Get in touch to find out how Alpha Tracker can help.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Chromebooks - a real alternative to a Windows laptop now?

The day before setting off for my week working in Perth, my laptop screen failed.  It tantalised and teased me to begin with, flickering slightly and responding to a "waggle" and the classic switch-it-off-and-on-again approach to fixing anything.

But hours after starting to show signs of problems ahead, it simply died and left me with a laptop that was on and working but with no screen to see what I was doing - unless I plugged into an external monitor.  It's not really an option to cart a 24 inch monitor halfway around the globe so I only had a couple of hours, before the shops closed and my flight was ready to board, to see if I could find a replacement laptop to take with me.

My laptop, a Lenovo X1 Yoga, is my trusted old friend and still in warranty so I really only needed something to work on while I was away.  Our local PC World had a few laptops that appealed but they were all £1500+ and that's far too much to spend when I knew that my own laptop would be repaired by the time I was back.

So... I challenged myself to look at alternatives and browsed the Chromebook section of the store.  Could a cheap and cheerful Chromebook possibly do the job for a week?  Could I possibly live without a "proper OS" ie Windows?!?  The Acer Chromebook R13 looked well built and very cost-effective and only £300:

The Acer Chromebook R13 - click here for a review
Checking to see what software I use all day, every day, I realised that most of it is now web-based or has an online version I could use at a pinch:

- QuickBooks Online is our accounts software
- Alpha Tracker runs our business* and is entirely web-based
- Outlook is available through Microsoft's Office365 website and so work email, tasks and calendar would be OK, and
- Gmail and the other Google cloud tools would sort me out for personal stuff.

Chrome even has a remote desktop feature which would allow me to access my broken Windows laptop (if I left it on in Telford while I was away).  So I rationalised that I could manage with just a web browser for the week and decided to give it a go.

Then I noticed a sticker on the Chromebook and had the revelation... Chromebooks can now run Android apps from the Google Play store! Did everyone else know this and just not me?!  This was amazingly useful - so favourite phone and tablet apps for Outlook, Tasks, Skype... they all install and work perfectly to give an almost-Windows feel and capability.  It should mean that even mobile app development software like the incredible new Alpha TransForm should work perfectly.

So, what's the verdict so far?  Yes, it works just fine!  I'm missing one or two Windows features (like the in-built photo editor, for example) but nothing important.  This has been a real eye-opener and an example of how the Internet and cloud computing is changing the hardware world, too.

*Eagle-eyed readers will be thinking "but isn't Alpha Tracker software for asbestos consultancies?".  Yes it is! But Alpha Tracker is actually end-to-end business management software which works for most businesses, whether they are in the environmental industry or any other - and it works perfectly for us a software company.  Using our own software to run our own business also means that we have a real incentive to fix bugs and improve it each and every day which is great for our users.

Neil & Robin meet after 20 years of business partnership and 30,000,000 items of asbestos data captured

Meet Neil Bartholomaeus.  Neil has been a business partner of ours for 20 years and is the brains and energy behind Mobile Data Studio, a key part of Start Software's Tracker and Alpha Tracker asbestos software systems.

Neil and Robin finally meet - after 20 years of business partnership
Neil lives and works near Perth, Western Australia, and had the vision to see the market for mobile site data collection systems even before reliable handheld devices existed! His experience working for the government in the most senior health & safety roles gave him an insight into the value of collecting data electronically and replacing paper with electronic forms.  The result of this vision, working with software developer Mike Stokes, is the software that we use to create our Tracker Mobile asbestos data collection system which has now captured 30,000,000+ items of asbestos data from buildings worldwide.

Having been business partners across the globe for 20 years now, we have finally got to meet!  I am working out of Perth this week with Judy from our Australian Alpha Tracker office, so Neil & I arranged to meet to discuss strategy and the next round of software improvements.

Cheers Neil for 20 years of partnership, helping us to help asbestos consultancies to identify and remove asbestos from buildings around the world.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Another asbestos consultancy switches to Alpha Tracker

We're delighted that another Scottish asbestos consultancy is switching to asbestos software Alpha Tracker.

Robertson McGregor Property Solutions, based in Fife, provide asbestos surveying, management and removal services to their clients and Alpha Tracker will help them to be even more efficient.

Can we help your asbestos consultancy to improve your service and become more efficient?  Get in touch!

Happy 50th birthday Elaine!

We all celebrated director Elaine's 50th last night at the best pub in the world... the George & Dragon in Much Wenlock.

Happy birthday Elaine from all of us!!

Friday, 11 January 2019

More asbestos surveyors trained to use asbestos software Alpha Tracker

Kim has been on site again this week with two asbestos consultancies helping to train new asbestos surveyors to use our asbestos software Alpha Tracker.

Another 15 asbestos surveyors are now live with our site asbestos data capture system, Tracker Mobile, enabling them to:

- load up their asbestos survey jobs from home onto their smartphone or tablet

- read project documentation, method statements and check plans before attending site

- complete their risks assessment before starting work

- capture data about asbestos samples and non-suspect items together with photos and notes

- send the asbestos data, photos and plan from site back to the server ready for the samples to be analysed and the asbestos report produced.

Can we help your asbestos consultancy to remove paperwork from your business or swap from another system?  We offer special discounts to users of other systems so get in touch now!

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Strong finish to the year from the Start Software Support Desk

Our Support Desk has been working all over the Christmas and the New Year period to help asbestos surveyors and administrators calling for help with asbestos software Alpha Tracker and the site asbestos data capture system, Tracker Mobile.

Altogether in December, we took 361 calls and 95% of the high priority ones were dealt with within 2 hours.  Overall, looking at problems raised with low, medium and high priority, 83% were resolved within the timescale requested by the caller.

Start Software support performance throughout 2018
Remember that you can (and do!) call 24/7 and we're proud to say that you will always speak to a real human being - never an answerphone and never an automated call system!  This support costs us a lot to deliver but we feel it is worth it so that you and your asbestos team have access to the very best support available in the industry.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Asbestos software Alpha Tracker Release 30 nearly ready

Our latest asbestos software Alpha Tracker update, Release 30, is nearly ready.

Dan has just published Alpha Tracker Release 30 beta 3, making it available to asbestos consultancies who are part of our beta testing programme.  Release 30 will contain more than 100 new features, bug fixes and performance improvements and will be welcomed by clients using Release 29 or earlier (click here for details of the previous update, made available in the autumn).

One of the key new features which Release 30 will make available is the new Alpha Draw site plan module which we have been blogging about throughout the second half of 2018.

There is still time to squeeze another couple of improvements into the software, so do get in touch if there is a feature you'd like to see!