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Green Business: How to allow technology to green up your business September 29, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business.
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In today’s world of high energy prices and changing priorities many companies are considering how to be more environmentally/energy friendly.  Of course, this is the green movement.  I definitely feel that it is time for our society to start making changes to be more responsible.  Many people think that this will require huge investments and difficult transitions in order to make this happen.  I am not completely certain that’s true.

Decrease mail volume

By decreasing mail volume you would be decreasing resource usage in two major areas: oil and paper.  Of course it takes gasoline to move your mail around the state/country/world.  Now, at least right now you can’t replace all shipping but you could probably replace quite a bit.  Think about utilizing electronic invoicing, electronic collections, online payment, etc. to decrease your need for mail services.  Many companies invest huge amounts of money to send invoices and follow-up letters and to handle the incoming payments.  By doing these simple things you could green up your business.

Decrease paper usage

How many of your processes involve printing out a document?  Do you need a printed copy?  How many times does it really need that person’s signature?  I have found that in many cases the paper document is unnecessary, it’s the approval that is important.  If you were to utilize a document management and routing system you could handle all of this process without the need for the paper to be printed.  Also, this allows the document to be retained in an online repository so there is no need to store it in the file cabinets that take up precious office space.

Another potential option to do this is the fax-to-email services provided by many vendors.  This allows any incoming fax to be sent directly to email.  This can also be integrated to go directly into your document repository.

Telecommuting

By putting in place electronic document storage, fax-to-email, and accessible business systems, it will allow you to be able to allow more telecommuting for you and any employees.  By doing this you will decrease the amount of oil that they burn to get to work everyday.  Because they can access your business systems from home they still have the ability to do the job you hired them to do.

You can also implement online collaboration tools (i.e. SharePoint, Google Apps, etc.) that will allow you to share documents and ideas over the Internet.  This allows your people to correspond with each even if they aren’t in the office. 

Sum it up

This is barely scratching the surface of what is possible but it should show that many of the possibilities are well within reach if you want to make your business more green.  Many times it is simply thinking through how to lower your “footprint” and then utilizing the existing capabilities of technology to acheive those goals.

As always, please feel free to contact me if you are interested in finding ways to use technology to green up your business or just make it more efficient.

Green Business: Telecommuting and Remote Employees September 26, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Virtual Office.
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I wrote a couple of short articles a week ago about telecommuting.  Today, I was discussing the telecommuting/remote employee concept with a friend and he said that it is a “green initative” at a consulting company that he works with.  Although I had thought about the impact of not having to drive to work everyday, I hadn’t really thought of the green concept of it.  When you think about the topic it is a very green concept. 

First of all, think about how much gasoline/oil would be saved with telecommuting.  It impacts this in a couple of ways.  In your car there would definitely be an impact.  Also, with fewer cars on the road every morning there would be less traffic.  This could potentially mean less stop and go traffic and less gasoline burned waiting in it.

With a larger scale implementation of the telecommuting concept it could also begin to decrease the constant need for more and larger highways.  Most of the highway capacity is designed to get people in and out for work purposes.  It is not designed for when people run to Target or WalMart.

Next, how much energy is needed to heat, cool, and light the office buildings that people are in?  You are already heating and cooling your home and the lighting impact would probably be pretty small working during the day at home.  On top of that, how much impact does it have to be constantly putting up new office buildings?  With increased telecommuting would come decreased demand for building more and more office buildings (sorry developers). 

Obviously, there are downsides to the topic and the impact would take time to be felt.  I just found the idea to be thought-provoking and I thought I would share it.  This is an example of making business more efficient while also making it more green.  Very interesting.

Another thought on Seizing the Market September 24, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies.
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Yesterday I posted reasons to build efficiencies during a downturn.  This morning I read an article in Entrepreneur’s RSS feed that discusses another thing to think about.  It would be a way to actually build business volume during the downturn.

Article: Starting an Online Business in a Down Economy

This is a great article if you are thinking of starting a business but I also think that you could implement some of the ideas if you are an existing business as well.  The question I would ask is: “Is there a way to utilize technology to reach customers?”.  In today’s market, that is probably the Internet but maybe it’s TV, or cell phones, or the iPod.  Who knows where the ideas can take you?

Slowing Economy: Why spend money on efficiencies? September 24, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Efficiency Process.
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I am someone who is very interested in economics and business so I have definitely been reading about all of the issues with the financial industry.  This is also having some ripple effect into other business sectors.  So, I am sure that many people are thinking that the best move is to just ride out the slow cycle and not “rock the boat” by spending any money on technology and business system upgrades.  I will actually say that now may be a great time to invest in efficiencies for a couple of reasons.

Be Prepared for the Upswing

The Boy Scout motto is: “Be Prepared”.  I would argue that is great advice for the current business cycle.  An upswing is coming.  (No, if I knew when I would be having lunch with Warren Buffett)  If you utilize this down period to refine and improve your processes and efficiency when business takes off with the next upswing you will be in a much better position to handle the increased business with a much lower cost structure.  It is much better to have something in place before you absolutely need it than trying to put it in place after you realize that should have had it 2 months ago.

I think that the current market really lends to the being prepared concept.  Now while you have a little bit of time to breathe you can invest in the refinement and optimization of your business.  Then when the volume increases the improvements are in place and you can do what you do best – your business.

Step up on competitors

Some of your competitors are considering or are optimizing their businesses but many others are laying low during the slow down.  If you take the opportunity to refine and improve you will have a step on them when things turn around.  Imagine that you can go into a project with the improvements in place and beat their estimates by 5, 10,  or even 20 percent or more because you have optimized your business and your expenses.  You now have put yourself in a position to land quite a few more contracts.

Investment In Your Business

This is a pretty simple concept.  If you invest in your business now you can and will see returns on it for years to come.  During the busy times you may not have time to stop look around and reassess.  You probably don’t have time to analyze and improve your processes.  You are way too busy for that.  Now, take the time and look at what you are doing and invest the needed time into your business.  Every business has to improve and adapt in order to continue competing.  As you make this investment you will position your business to be more strong and resilient in the future.

To Wrap it up… Carpe Diem

That’s right Seize the Day.  I personally believe that this is a great time to consider how to improve and strengthen your business through improving efficiencies.  You will find yourself in a much more competitive situation once the market turns.  You really don’t even need to hire someone to start this process.  Spend some time looking at your business processes.  Figure how they can be improved.  If you need help then call someone and have them consult with you.  You have a golden opportunity to build your business… seize it.

As always, if I can help please contact me. 

Also, if you have any stories about your business improvements or you completely disagree/agree let me know with a comment!

Telecommuting 2 September 22, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies.
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Well apparently telecommuting is my topic for the week (see other Telecommuting post).  I just read another interesting article about telecommuting.  This one is from Denise O’Berry on the allbusiness.com website.  She discusses some of the video conferencing software out there today.  I am not sure if I totally agree with everything that she says but I do think she is on the right track.

As I said in the previous post, I really think that remote employees and telecommuting are going to be huge topic in the next 5-10 years.  The questions are always going to be raised about communication and productivity but I think that many people are figuring out those issues now and we are seeing active case studies being created.  I personally believe that it is going to take a different type of oversight than what we have been used to but it is going to happen.

As the baby boomers leave the job world and the Internet generation join the ranks of the working many of the long held beliefs are going to be questioned.  I think it is going to be an interesting discussion and will have some wide reaching impacts.

Telecommuting: Talk about refocusing technology! September 20, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Efficient Technologies.
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I am a staunch believer that at least in some fields telecommuting is going to explode.  IT is a great example of an industry where it will take off.  With the resource issues in the industry, the speed at which the supporting technology is advancing, and the cost of energy continuing to rise it seems that it is only a time issue right now. 

This is an area where I definitely think that by utilizing the technology it will cause companies to be more efficient, effective, and profitable. 

Anyway, speaking of the technology, I just saw a great post by Scott Hanselman showing some of the new teleconferencing technology that he uses to assist in telecommuting.  With technology like this, I don’t think we’re too far away.

IT Resources: Complexity of finding the right people September 16, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Resourcing.
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This is a very difficult topic.  There are so many different ways that companies go about finding the “right” person.  I have been at places where they have a specific salary or hourly range and anyone who may fit within that realm is the best fit.  Also, I have seen people who will base it on years of experience.  Some will simply get in all of the offers and pick the cheapest one.

I personally don’t think that any of the options that I stated above are good ways to choose.  I think that you should base the decision on ability.  How do you figure that out?  It is not easy. 

  1. Look for references (preferrably from previous clients that were happy)
  2. Look for experience in providing solutions NOT just developing software
  3. Look for people who have leadership and management skillsets (this will provide them the ability to work a project with more than one person to completion

 

Cheapest Resource

The easiest way to look at this is the old cliche: “You get what you pay for”.  Most of the time you will be picking up an inexperienced person or someone who really hasn’t done it before.  Also, you will usually be working with someone who is going to work on it when they have free time.  I have seen this option employed by people who turned into my clients after this experience.  Usually, the person low-balled the offer and then failed to deliver on the timeframe or budget.  This is a technique that many people will use to try to land projects.  This is not to say that it will never work but I would be EXTREMELY leery of this option.  After all, ask yourself this question: “If the person is really good at the job, why are they below market rates?”.  Some may have legitimate reasons but most won’t.

In many cases the cheapest resource actually costs you more.  Let’s say the cheapest resource you deal with is charging 35/hour and a higher level developer is charging 100/hour.  Seems like a no-brainer.  Be careful.  With a junior or intermediate level developer the project can take 4, 5, or 6 times as long because they are not prepared.  Now look at this:

If it takes the cheapest resource 40 hours at 35/hour the project cost $1400.  If the experienced contractor charging 100/hour can get it done in 10 hours your cost was only $1000.  This obviously can make a difference to overall cost.  So, simply be careful to look for lowest COST not lowest PRICE.

Fits the salary

This really can fit into the same scenario as Cheapest Resource.  You really should be looking to find someone who can fulfill your requirements for the project solution.  In many cases the decision is purely a money decision.  When this happens many times the projects are a disappointment.  This is due to the fact that the project is driven to cut corners.  I would recommend that you do an analysis to find out costs and then decide whether to proceed or not instead of setting a cost ceiling and then cutting corners.

Experience

While experience is important, in the IT industry it is not a great indicator of ability.  Just because you have been around for 10, 20, or even 30 years does not mean that you have the ability to run a project from start to finish.  In most cases, technology is shifting at least once every 2-3 years (getting faster each year).  This means that someone with 10 years of experience probably really has 3 years of experience 3 times.  What I mean by this is that they have shifted technologies and relearned it.  So they have used 3 technologies each for 3 years.  This is the nature of the market.

Now, I don’t want to belittle experience either.  It is very important.  You can learn a lot about the industry, business, and general architecture tasks through experience (no other way).  All I am saying is that 10, 20, or 30 years doesn’t automatically make you the best resource.

Ability

This is by far the best measure of the resource.  It is also the most difficult.  I would highly recommend looking for references.  Someone who has provided quality services before will have references.  Make sure to look at services like LinkedIn where they can request references.  I would recommend looking for experience providing the types of services you are looking for.   Try to find network connections that can refer people.  It is absolutely true that referrals are the best way to find this out about a person.

Final Thoughts

In today’s market, it can be very tough to find the right resource to get your solution created.  Be careful of viewing the IT resource market as a commodity market.  Not all developers are equal.  Try to find contacts that you can trust have the ability.  I have seen too many projects fail because they didn’t have the right resource it place.  Try to find someone you trust that can help and advise you. 

If you need any help please feel free to contact me.  I would be more than willing to provide guidance and assistance.

Technical People vs. Business People September 11, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Development Process.
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The Issue

I have heard and seen so many stories that say “the IS department at our company can never get anything done” or “the users don’t know what they need”.  It is at epidemic stage at many businesses.  At many companies it is an us vs. them idea.  This is extremely sad due to the promise that technology can hold for optimizing the work and business environment.

Typical Scenarios

Why does this happen?  I would say the biggest reasons are: communication, time, and understanding.  Those three items are a triangle.  In many businesses the timeline is set long before anyone spends any time fully outlining the problem.  So by the time that the business unit and IT get together they are already behind the “eight-ball”.  So they limit the communications to a few meetings to describe what the business is looking for.  Many times the business unit doesn’t have the time or the training to create specifications so they leave that to the IT staff.   The IT staff doesn’t have the business training to fully understand what they are being told and what the business unit is trying to do.  So by intermixing lack of time, lack of communication, and lack of understanding the specifications are not complete and quite possibly not correct.  Since the business unit does not completely understand specifications they may think that it is complete and correct.

Once into the project, the business users are now able to see what is coming together and find that it is not what they need or requested.  At this point, there are discussions of what needs to be changed. 

When that happens, there are two routes that are usually pursued.  First, the technical people will have a problem with the change because their solution is “to spec” meaning that it meets the written specifications.  This causes there to be discussions of the specifications being incorrect and many times finger-pointing ensues.  The second possibility is that somebody will just say “fine, we’ll change it” without altering the specifications or understanding the complete scope of the change.  In this scenario, many times changes start to be made without control which causes more issues and more fixes.  This can turn into the “black hole” project.

So what do we do?

Both sides of the equation need to understand that there is a knowledge gap.  The business unit will not typically understand what the technical people are asking/meaning because they are not trained how to develop solutions or even how to do analysis.  The IT staff will not typically understand what the business is asking for and why they are asking for it.  You really need to have one or more people that really understand both sides of the game.  There are a few solutions that I can think of

Business Analyst

In some cases, the solution is a business analyst.  This is a good solution as long as the person understands both sides.  This is a good solution as long as they can understand both sides.  This can be difficult because if you bring an outside analyst who understands analysis they may not understand the business or IT.  If you use and internal business user who really understands the business may have a tough time communicating it to technical people and may not understand how to do the analysis.  If you use a technical person, some of them may not be good with the business and/or analysis.

Education of resources

Some companies will have both sets of resources to spend time with each other to understand what each other does.  They may also spend the time and money to help both sides understand how to do analysis.  The developers will spend time learning how the business runs and the business will spend time learning how the systems will operate.  This can be a great solution.  It can also be time and money intensive.

Solution Architect

This is the term that I use for someone who has the education and ability to do analysis, design and development of the system.  The advantage to someone like this is that they have the ability to work with the business users to do the analysis.  The same person has the ability to architect and design the solution that will solve the problem.  They may even be involved in the development effort.  The advantage you get with someone like this is that less will get lost in translation.  The only thing that the solution architect will need to do is spend time to learn the business process.  This can be done by having that person spend time with business users or maybe even train and allow them to do the job.  This is a process called shadowing.

In many cases, the solution architect has the ability, knowledge, and experience that comes with doing this process many times so they know what they are looking for and really how to learn from what they are watching.  They then will have the ability to analyze and document the process.  From that they would come up with a proposed solution and design and architect it.  This will allow the developers to understand what is being built from a technical aspect.  This allows one person to translate between business and technical people.

Final Thoughts

As I said, it is sad to me that so many IT projects have issues due to timelines, miscommunication, and misunderstandings.  If companies and people will begin to put people in place that can be the “translator” between business and technical jargon, I think more companies will realize the vast improvements that technology can bring.  It really shouldn’t be “us vs. them” it should be “how do we solve this issue?”.  Honestly, in some cases they speak different languages so in turn they need a “translator”.

Blog Tag September 10, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Social Networking.
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Well, apparently I have been blog tagged by Robert Stanke.  I had never heard of this before Robert tagged me.  So, here goes.

First, I am supposed to outline 6 random things about me.

1. Over the past few years I have realized that I have serious entrepreneurial drive.  I have a few ideas I would like to start but since technology is my background, I am doing this to start out at least. 

2. I found out through a gifts assessment that I have the gift of generousity.  At the time, I couldn’t believe it but I have found it to be true.  This is another reason for my business ideas because they are a real opportunity to give back and help people.  After all, what will the money really mean in the end.

3. I am originally from a small town in Northern Minnesota (Deer River).  I can definitely say that I miss the lakes and the trees but not the mosquitos and the winters.

4. I enjoy golfing although I never seem to have time.  There is something about spending 3-4 hours frustrating yourself that I find relaxing.

5. Someday I think that I may find myself in city or state level politics.  I believe that the only way to change the system is by being involved.

6. I have a serious interest in psychology and how people think and work.  I find it very interesting to learn more about why people do what they do.

Alright there are my six.  Let’s see who should I tag?

James Nix

Lisa Hendickson

Matthew Nehrling

Bill Brelsford

Okay, so I am two short.  These are the people I know who are blogging right now.

Alright here are the rules (copied from Robert’s Blog):

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on the blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Happy Blogging.

Business System Analysis September 3, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Efficiency Process.
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Business Systems

My belief is that if every company focused on building a system (a business system not a software system) to do their business they would be vastly more effective.  A system allows for things to move along in a very uniform pattern.  This makes things easy to deal with and conform to a set of standards.  It makes it very easy on employees and also makes it easy to train someone new coming in the door. 

It takes a significant amount of time and effort though to define your business system or process.  It follows a simple set of steps but they can definitely take time:

Step 1: What are the current process steps and Why?

This sounds like a simple task but in many cases it is not as simple as it seems.  In many cases there are multiple people who do the task and not a lot of process documentation to outline how it’s done.  Also, many times no one will really know why a certain task is done the way it is.  Many times this is due to the fact that it has been passed down from one employee to another and the reason may not have been passed.

**NOTE: In this step, the answer “Because that is the way it has always been done” should not be acceptable.  You should strive to have a true answer to Why or realize that the step may need to be looked at.

This is a very important step.  It is very important that the proper amount of time is taken to truly understand the current process.  Only if this step is done properly can the rest of the steps come out correctly.

Step 2: Is there a better way to do the task and does it need to be done at all?

This step can be difficult and needs to be handled gently.  You definitely don’t want to make this an interrogation of the employee.  This should be a very open, honest brainstorming session.  This is where the process refinement comes into play.  The people involved in this discussion should really consider better ways to do the task and also consider if there are ways to not do the task at all.  This is where you can get rid of the non-essential tasks and bureaucratic red-tape if possible.

This is also where there should be discussions of how to automate certain tasks.  In many cases, if there are specific steps that have to occur each time and they are pretty reproducable a software solution may be able to help simplify the the process.  This is something that you should discuss with a solution architect to figure out if automation processes will be applicable and feasible for your process.

Step 3: Revise process

The process should now be written in a draft format and reviewed by the members of the process team to verify that they will work.  During this process you may find that you will go through Step 1 and Step 2 multiple times to further refine the process.  This is fine because your end goal is the definition of an efficient process. 

At the end of this task, you should be very comfortable with how the process works, why each step occurs, and where the improvements will happen.  This will allow you to move on to the next step.

Step 4: Document the process

It is just like they say in the legal field, a oral agreement is as good as the paper it’s written on.  This information needs to be documented.  Each step in the process should be outlined as to who, what, why, where, and how.  Everything about the task that is known should be documented.  This will make it easy in the future when you need to train someone else or when you have to go back and look at why a process works a certain way.

During this step do not tie tasks to a specific person tie it to a specific role.  Over time people change roles so the documentation will lose some value.  If you outline the role that should do it the documentation will transition much easier from person to person.

Conclusion

This process is by no means simple and it will be time consuming but it can produce lasting benefits.  Many processes are defined and then never looked at again even though circumstances and resources change.  Many companies will add new customers, products, and resources yet they don’t consider looking at their process to see if it can and should be changed to support the new requirements.

Even though this task may seem daunting, it is something that will pay off in many ways once completed.  It gives you an outline of what you do and why you do it.  This information will help everyone understand the process and do it as efficiently as possible.  It shows you where you can improve and allows you to remove aspects no longer needed.  The bottom line is that it can and will effect your bottom line.