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Fantastic free and open source software

Open Source software which you might find useful – Post Updated December 2018

There is some very good software out there, Microsoft Office or Photoshop, for example. These are industry standard applications which you would likely use if you are in the workplace or a specialist. However, there are free alternatives for those of us who might be occasional users or who prefer to join the open source movement. You will often see software presented as free when in fact it is designed to extract money from you. You may find your version is a time trial or a cut down version with key features which you have to pay for. Here I have compiled a list of software which, for the most part, is completely free and Open Source. You might think that Open Source software might not be good software. However, the model of world wide communities of volunteers collaboratively creating applications has actually proven to be highly effective. Many open source applications are, in fact, as good if not better than their proprietary counterparts. Let me know what you think about these powerful free tools for getting the job done.

Office Suite – Libre Office Includes word processor, spreadheet, database, presentation, charts, formula editor, templates and more – it can also open and edit Microsoft office documents and save in pdf format

e-mail client – Thunderbird Access all your email accounts via one interface

Twitter client – Tweeten Manage many Twitter accounts through one application 

Sound editing – Audacity Very powerful and fairly easy to use

Video editing – VSDC Full featured video editing plus conversion and screen recording tools

Diagramming tool – Dia Great for process flowcharts, project plans, technical diagramming

Mind Mapping tool – Edraw Get your creative ideas down as they emerge – excellent for brainstorming sessions

High End Image Editing – Gimp Very powerful but takes time and effort to learn

Lighter Image editing – Still pretty powerful image editing application, will meet most people’s needs

Photo Editing – Darktable Digital darkroom

Project Management – Gantt Project  Classic desktop project management tool – can open Microsoft Project files

Desktop Publishing – Scribus Good for creating newsletters, flyers and brochures

Accounting/Financial Software – GNUCash Desktop accounting very useful for self employed and small businesses

Media Player – Pot Player 
Plays a wide range of video and audio files without need to install extra codecs

Media Player – VLC –
General purpose media player runs on Windows, Mac, Unix, Linux, Android

Desktop Planetarium – Stellarium 
Explore the night sky, control time, view the stars from different locations

Text & Code Editor – Notepad++ Great as a general purpose basic text and code editor 

Code Editor – Brackets Great code editor focussing on web development

Code Editor – Sublime Text Great code editor that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux

Database – SQL Server Express – Free desktop version of the powerful Microsoft SQL Server database system – can be used with Visual Studio Development environment and controlled through the Microsoft Management Console  

Database – MySQL  Open source relational database management system

Database Management Console – MySQL Workbench  Great tool for managing MySql databases

Open Source Web Development Environment – WAMP Windows based open source development environment essential for hosting WordPress, Moodle, Drupal, Joomla and many other web applications – there are versions for other operating systems such as LAMP (Linux) and XAMPP (Mac OS)

FTP Client – Cyberduck –
Great for uploading/downloading files to hosted webspace/webservers

PC Anti-Virus – Windows Defender –
Comes with Windows 10, can be installed on earlier versions of Windows

Anti- Spy/Adware– Malwarebytes and Malwarebytes AdwCleaner –
Great for cleaning up an infected PC

Managing Your Digital Footprint

Having a website is great for getting your message out to the world. There are two ways of looking at websites: one is to see them as brochures listing what you do and how to contact you, this is often the first step in the process of ‘going digital’, the second is what is sometimes termed web 2.0, this is where your website contains dynamic content and is connected to other online tools, websites and resources.  A web 2.0 website seeks to offer features and functionality which go further by offering the visitor the ability to interact according to their needs.

Digital Footprint
An example Digital Footprint

A more dynamic 2.0 website will offer:-

  • recent information on your activities
  • links to other relevant websites
  • links to other online platforms
  • external information from feeds/widgets etc.
  • ability to interact e.g. communicate with groups associated with your field
  • could include downloads, sales, forums
  • will collect user feedback/analytics

This kind of website requires continual input from you with new content and activities but offers much greater power in attracting interest and interaction. You could see it as a way of maintaining a network online using social media tools rather than face to face via the golf club or the pub. This is not to say these approaches are mutually exclusive but rather maintaining a digital footprint is another option for your organisation. An online network has the potential to reach far more people than you could meet in person.

Once you become the custodian of your digital footprint you can undertake some analysis of your followers/subscribers/contacts. What are they interested in? How often do they visit?, where are they based? You can view comments, forum posts, conduct surveys, and use web analytics to gain insights into these questions. Finding out what people are looking for should inform your own organisational development plans. The idea is to use your web presence as a means of creating a feedback loop. Rich insights on your customers/clients/users should then be harvested, analysed and built into your planning.  You may start to create online activities to entice people to engage. Offering free advice or materials could be a great way to increase visitors to your site and hence raise your profile and/or business leads.

Your Digital Footprint is made up from a variety of online tools which will refer to each other to form a whole. So for example, when you publish a new blog post or web page you will notify people via the different social media tools you are using. Your notification, for example, a tweet, will contain a link to the new post/page. This way your various online tools are working together to maximise your reach.

Once you develop an online profile, create a like minded community, and interact and respond with that community you have the opportunity to move toward becoming an Agile organisation. Moving your organisation toward being agile is seen as the key to success in a competitive and dynamic environment.

Once you begin to curate your digital profile you will identify new ways of finding your voice and promoting your mission. If you would like to explore this topic further, get in touch.

Martin Sepion

Getting yourself onto the web using WordPress

Whether you are a blogger, charity or small business, getting onto the web for the first time can be a little daunting. This post aims to give you a few pointers to give you the confidence to get online.

If you are completely new to the online world it is probably best to experiment with social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. These give you the opportunity to create an online identity, share/create content, and build networks of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’.

However, in this post I am concentrating on using WordPress to create a website or blog for you to share your ideas with the world. WordPress is open source software that is developed be volunteers. It is very popular as it is supported and developed by a huge worldwide community of computer software developers. More than a quarter of websites on the internet are developed using WordPress.

There are two ways you can get a wordpress site. The first is to use a company that allows you to set-up a WordPress website or blog for free. An example of this is will host your site for free leaving you to add the content. You can choose from a selection of site designs (Themes) as well as many other options and be on the web in no time. You will have a URL which includes – so it may look like https://SallysFlowers/

This is a great way to get started as you can experiment with different settings and become familiar with how WordPress works. However, if you have a more ambitious project in mind and need more flexibility, you may choose the second option which is to use a web hosting company (e.g., 1&1 or GoDaddy). This will cost you a small monthly fee for hosting your website and a fee for registering a domain name. Hosting is where a company allocates you some space on their servers and keeps your website online 24/7 You can buy additional hosting services as you need them, such as extra space and more domains. Installing WordPress onto hosted websace is quite straightforward as all the major companies provide wizards to simplify the set-up. These companies will offer domain registration services so that you can choose your preferred name, check to see if it is available and pay a small fee to register it to you. This is done on an annual basis and will typically cost £10-15 per year. Added to the hosting cost you should not have to pay more than £70 per year for a basic package.

Once you have got yourself a domain name (e.g. and set-up your WordPress site onto your hosting service you are ready to start configuring your site and adding content. This second paid-for model offers much greater flexibility than the first free option. Once you have set up your basic site here are some steps I suggest you consider:-

  • Choose a Theme – design template for your site
  • Install and configure the plugin Google Analytics (e.g. ) – this shows how many people are visiting your site
  • Install a spam blocking plugin – this blocks unwanted junk messages
  • Install an SEO plugin – this helps to make your site easier to find by search engines
  • Install a plugin to clear your site cache – this speeds up your site
  • Consider a photo compression to reduce page loading times
  • If you are customising your site consider using child themes as this ensures your customisations will not be lost when you update your themes
  • Consider a plugin to create an XML sitemap which helps search engines catalogue your site
  • Consider backing up your site – just in case

There are many many Themes, Plugins and Widgets available to customise your site. Which you choose will depend upon what you want to achieve. You can create incredible sites using these user friendly features that are part of WordPress but if you want to totally control everything you will need to learn some coding. There are some great videos on Youtube which help with this.  A website or blog is an ongoing project and should be seen and managed in that way. A website can become part of your digital footprint which if it is linked can be a very powerful tool to promote you, your organisation or your business.

I hope you found this short overview useful. As always of you would like to know more get in touch.

Martin Sepion


Practical Tips for Writing a Strategy


When you are tasked with writing a strategy for your organisation it can be quite daunting at first. What follows is intended as a practical approach to getting you started. At Tek Tonic we provide advice on writing Business Strategies, IT Strategies, ILT/e-Learning Strategies, Information Systems Strategies and Teaching and Learning Strategies but I have tried to write this in such a way that it would be useful to a person writing any strategy paper. There are different approaches to strategy writing and no ‘right’ way to do it. What follows is a series of tips, advice and suggestions, which we have found helpful over the years. I hope you find it useful.
The purpose of a strategy
A strategy is an expression of an organisation wide agreement about the way forward. The process of consulting over it, discussing it, drafting it and agreeing it helps to develop a shared vision of where you are going. A strategy, once ratified,  becomes an official document of your institution and therefore places an obligation upon your colleagues to support its objectives. Once you know where you are going and have ‘buy in’ from across the organisation you have every chance of success. If you want to get things done then writing a strategy might be a good way to get started.
Continuous improvement
Ideally, strategy writing should be a collective effort across your college/organisation rather than a specific task assigned to one individual. Inevitably, pressure of time and external requirements often result in a strategy being written up quickly to satisfy a deadline. A better way is to follow a cyclical process of development where you start with reviewing your current position, move on to shaping a vision for the future, draft a strategy to achieve the vision, implement the strategy and finally return to review your position again. This process may take many years but typically will be completed over a three-year timescale.
Identify where you are in the cycle and concentrate on the part of the process you are currently engaged in. One of the most difficult areas is the visioning phase as this involves thinking outside your current organisational culture and contemplating what can become fundamental change. The visioning stage should be informed by best practice in other comparable organisations, recent research and new developments, networking and brainstorming and attendance at conferences and events.
Reviewing where you are can also be a challenge. We work with education providers on this activity by offering self-evaluation tools and activities which help organisations come to an agreed understanding of where they are. This activity also adds an external perspective on your current position. Once you know where you are it is easier to identify the path ahead.
Practical Tips
Meet with as many natural stakeholders as possible. These might be students, employers, staff, managers, parents, customers or volunteers, as well as people from partner agencies. A coherent strategy will support the organisational business plan and mutually support the other organisational strategies e.g. Teaching and Learning, Staff Development, Premises-Estates and Human Resources Strategies etc. The strategies should reference each other, as they will need to form a cohesive approach to achieving the business plan. For example, a new IT system will need to be supported by staff development and the Teaching and Learning Strategy might require support from Premises and Facilities in order to deliver a new course within the curriculum offer, such as room modifications or new builds.
An Action Plan that identifies what will be done, by whom, by when and from which budget, should accompany the strategy. A good way to create an action plan  is to have SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) targets or descriptions of what you are going to do. This is so that you and everyone else is clear about what you are aiming to achieve and will know when you have achieved each element. You might need to estimate completion dates and costs as it is not always possible to be sure how long something will take or cost, however, it is better to make an informed estimate than leave the field blank.
It is good if your strategy is reviewed by a body separate from those tasked with delivering it. The group reviewing the strategy can be identified and specified in the strategy. A timescale describing the review dates can also be included. Over time your strategy will be modified as circumstances change. This might be initiated by the reviewing body or the team delivering the strategy or by your students/customers/users. It is good practice for changes to the strategy to be agreed by the senior management team. (SMT).
A good strategy is one that is understood across the organisation – so a Communication Plan should be part of the strategy initiative.  All staff should know about the main elements of the strategy and why you are doing what you are doing. Ideally students (customers) should be able to inform the strategy. In order to do this they need to know about it and how they can influence it. A culture of openness and dialogue is a characteristic of successful organisations and a good strategy will emerge from listening and responding to many needs and points of view.
Lastly, I would suggest you view as many example strategies as possible, although I would not recommend using another organisation’s strategy.  It is often very useful to see different approaches to the task of strategy formulation. This can give you good ideas and help you to see your own strategy from a different perspective.
Mission and Values
These are the principles you are working to which will define your scope. They describe the way you do things as opposed to the way other organisations do things. It is worth thinking about such constraints so that you are clear about your room for manoeuvre. You also want your strategy to be one that is clearly from your institutional culture. This does not mean it will not change the way you do things but that it will support, rather than hinder, the business plan.
The final strategy should be endorsed by SMT and the Board or Governing Body. The strategy should be dated and specify the period of time it covers and when it is to be reviewed.

Think big
I would suggest you think big and aim high in your strategy-writing efforts. Strategy writing is about steering your organisation so that it can thrive in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century and face the future with confidence. Organisations that are not able to change are not likely to survive very long. Having a view of where you are as an organisation, where you want to be and how you are going to get there is the essence of strategy writing. It is all about how to successfully implement change in an organisation. If this seems ‘pie in the sky’ don’t worry. In my experience you actually achieve more than you expect to, so it is worth being ambitious. It is better to achieve 50% of an ambitious strategy that 90% of a very modest one.
If you would like to find out more about strategic thinking (review, horizon scanning, brainstorming, planning, & implementation) get in touch.
By Martin Sepion

Strategic Management Cycle

A useful way we have found to help organisations plan and think strategically is by using the strategic management lifecycle model.

This involves four main elements:- Strategy formulation, Planning, Implementation, & Review

Strategy Formulation – this is where you define your objectives in broad terms. What you want to achieve, where do you want to be over the medium term. This could be things like ‘we want to have 20% market share in three years time’, a turnover of x per year in 5 years time, x number of members, x number of satisfied customers etc. Whatever your performance metrics are they should be defined here. In the formulation of strategy you want to define your organisational values, niche, ethos. What you stand for what is your mission. These may not have changed but it is useful to reaffirm them to be sure they guide further development. Horizon scanning as it is sometimes called is where you look internally and also externally. What are your competitors and partners doing and how should you respond. What external developments are likely to offer threats or opportunities to you. These might be political, economic, legal, technological etc. In short your organisational strategy should encompass both an internal and external appraisal of the environment you will be operating within over the medium and longer term.


Brainstorming is where you gather together people from different elements of your organisation to do some blue sky thinking. This is where there are no bad ideas. Hopefully no personal pet projects or interference from office politics. The purpose is to think creatively to come up with ideas to move the organisation forward. These sessions can be extremely productive. We suggest they are facilitated by an external coach or chair.

Planning is where the broader direction defined within the strategy formulation process is built into the organisation governance framework. In other words broad aims are specified into action plans that staff teams can enact. For example if your strategic aim is to increase sales this might be enacted through your action plans through a series of statements such as ‘increase marketing activities through the following media channels’, ‘increase the number of sales people from x to y’, ‘promotion and development of new products via the following events’ etc. So the broad aim to increase sales is supported by some concrete measureable actions within departmental action plans. Planning should translate a top level strategy into actionable activities that your staff can implement. We would suggest the use of action plans and SMART targets for this activity as planning is where the strategy begins to become a reality.

Implementation is where the strategy is enacted. It is where the action plans are given out and the real work happens. During implementation real world problems will arise and will need to be managed. Plans may need to be adapted and modified.

Review is the time when you need to ask where you are and where do you want to be. We suggest getting an external viewpoint on where you are. Review is the phase where you want to see what worked well and what did not work so well. In overall terms did your strategy meet it the objectivers defined at the outset. What did you learn during the process and how will you capture the knowledge for the future.

Continuous Improvement is key to this approach. Once the cycle has been completed it begins again as this process is underpinned by a continuous improvement philosophy. You never rest on your laurels or feel that you have ‘arrived’. The idea is that you are always seeking to improve further and adapt in a changing environment. The timescale of the cycles will vary according to the organisation type and size but is intended to be medium term (2-5 years).

Communication and consultation of your strategy. This is one of the key elements that people often forget or fail to give sufficient prominence to. A strategy that has been written by an individual or a small group is highly unlikely to be successful. A strategy that does not have the support of people from across the organisation is not going to succeed. Any strategic initiative will take your people out of their comfort zones and will challenge them to think differently about what they do. In order to bring people with you you will need to consult and communicate effectively throughout the process. This is not easy but there are some key concepts that will help. The most important is to recognise that your customers/clients, stakeholders and importantly your staff are a huge source of talent which you should be aiming to draw upon.  Do not think of consulting staff as a chore think of it as an opportunity to harvest their ideas and enthusiasm to make your strategy come to life. Pose questions then listen and record their responses. Prompt debate about the best way forward. Create a dynamic atmosphere where all ideas are valued and evaluated against your high level objectives/mission.

By Martin Sepion

Strategic Management for Beginners

When you get your first management role you are likely to be supervising operations. This is a great way to start your management career. It is here that you get a broader picture of what is going on in your organisation and hands on experience of dealing with problems. Dealing with problems is what you are there for. People might be off sick, on training, or annual leave your job here is to keep the process running while maintaining standards during this period where you are short of staff. Finding creative solutions to this situation is where you have the opportunity to shine. You might move staff from activities that can wait for a bit, you might get staff to agree to work extra hours, you might streamline processes along the way. The main thing is you resolve the problem. Operational management is all about sorting out these day to day problems. Being good at sorting out problems depends on your ability to keep your staff and your customers happy. It requires excellent analytical, problem solving and social skills coupled with a firm grasp of the reality on the ground. The better you are at sorting out problems the better a manager you are. However, once you go higher up the management ladder you become more strategic and less operational in your function.

Strategic management is a different challenge from operational management. Managing at this level requires the ability to look longer term and plan for the future. To ensure your organisation is ready to embrace the opportunities that come along rather than react to them. Managing strategically is very difficult if operationally you are in a mess (firefighting). The first challenge, therefore, is to sort out the operational management to enable you to put strategic management into effect.

All good managers need to keep in close touch with what is going on at ground level to be effective strategic managers. There are three ways in which you can know what is going on in your organisation:- the first is to do ‘the thing’ yourself, the second is to listen to the people who are doing ‘the thing’, the last is to receive reports containing data on ‘the thing’. The ‘thing’ here could be your production operation, your sales, your services, your matches (as in sport), your battles (as in war). Clearly each of these means of knowing what is going on has pros and cons, so the best option, if possible, is to gather information from all means. Once you have information you need to analyse it. Your ability to analyse information is important but more important still is the ability to be honest when looking at the evidence. This is where personal traits become more important than management theory or management techniques.

Developing strategy
Developing strategy

Once you have made an honest appraisal of what is going on you need to find a solution that is commensurate with the scale of the problem. This is where you need a good mathematical/analytical approach. When looking at staffing for example, a good rule of thumb is to hire seven staff where your estimate is the need for six posts. This is because staff are not always available due to annual leave, training, sickness, vacancies, jury service etc. In this example the operational manager has the task of keeping the service running when staff are short while the strategic manager has the task of ensuring there are sufficient staffing levels long term. The strategic manager should ensure that a staffing crisis does not occur every couple of weeks. The only reason for a staffing crisis should be very exceptional circumstances. Strategic solutions to a staffing issue could include looking medium term at business trends, projected performance, contingency planning, reviewing staffing levels, reviewing staff skills and cross training, reviewing pay and conditions, reviewing business processes and automation, and reviewing internal communications and intelligence. Once a review or series of reviews have taken place actions should be written up and consulted upon. A strategy should then be put in place to address the issue. Once embedded the new strategy should be reviewed and amended where necessary. It is a good idea to consult as often as possible with customers, other relevant stakeholders and your staff. This process of review, consultation, strategy and action should be tailored in the level of detail according to the size of your operation. If you are a small business this process could be followed without being supported by too much documentation whereas if you are a medium or large organisation this process should be supported by formal documentation and governance procedures.

The examples given here are for staff shortages but this strategic management process can be applied to a wide range of issues such as maintaining quality, controlling costs, developing future products or services, systems failure, and many others.

I hope this very brief overview of strategic management has been useful.

By Martin Sepion

Tek Tonic Tips for People Management

What is an organisation? An institution? A business or a charity? Is it a building, a set of policy documents and strategy papers, a niche in the market or a set of values? It is a group of people. In the 21st century, machines do the doing. People do the creative stuff. Your people define your identity and your place in the world. Everything else is a product of your people.

University of London Staff
University of London Computer Centre Staff

In a technology driven world we can easily get focussed on the every more impressive capacity of our machines but we should be concentrating on our highest value asset – our people. This is why people management is the most important of all management skills. As a manager you should prioritise the whole process of managing your staff above all else. Manage them well and your enterprise will thrive. They will sort out all the other things managers often become bedraggled with.

How to manage people well

Employ managers who have excellent social skills, are genuine, honest and interested in people. They need to be able to recognise and appreciate talents that they themselves may not possess. Put time and effort into the entire staffing process. From team structure, job definition and person specification to recruitment. Induct your staff and support their development throughout their time with you. Give them challenges that stretch them but are within their potential. Support them when it is time for them to move on. The best managers act as tutors and mentors to their staff. Taking responsibility for projects while freeing your workers to contribute their ideas and creativity. Most importantly spend 98% of your time as a manager praising and encouraging versus 2% correcting and criticising your people. Do not ask them to do anything you would not do yourself and lead by example. Stick up for your team, celebrate their achievements and promote their value to the rest of the organisation.

UoL Staff
UoL Staff

Listen to your staff, trust them, and focus your energy as their manager on addressing the challenges to greater performance. If it is lack of time, lack of resources, lack of skills, lack of people your staff will bring these issues to you. As a manager it is your job to find solutions to these problems. Your solutions must be equal to the scale of the problems. If you need ten more people to get your project finished on time and you only provide one you are not doing your job as a manager. If you negotiate a weeks extension to the project and you need 10 you are not doing your job as a manager. The same is true of resources or budgets. You need to be a realist and willing to bring your honest appraisal of requirements up the chain of command. This is where you need courage to be an effective manager.

Stressed people are unproductive whilst a harmonious environment is a hotbed of creativity and productiveness.

These things are not easy but if you follow this approach you will be surprised by the creativity of your staff and the growing capability of your organisation.

By Martin Sepion