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What is crowd sourcing? January 27, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Resourcing, Social Networking, Tools, Virtual Office.
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Okay, I am going to share information that I am finding as I try to understand the concept called “Crowd sourcing”.   Here is what I found as a base definition on WikiPedia:

Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call.

So from a basic perspective utilizing many resources to do a task.  It’s a very interesting concept and I am wondering how it can be best utilized.

I will keep you up-to-date as I try to figure out how to best utilize it…

Please feel free to help me understand and post a comment!  Have you crowd sourced something?  Have you provided crowd sourcing services?

Game Changers January 15, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Tools, Virtual Office.
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There are going to be changes to the way we do business over the coming years and I believe that mobile technology in phones is going to be a huge game changer in that realm.  It all started with email and SMS and now we are entering a new dimension.

Mobile/Phone Computing

This is probably the biggest market for growth in the business sector over the next year, at least from an efficiency standpoint.  There are many new “toys” that are available or will be available in pretty sort order.

The first one I have to mention is the business favorite Blackberry.  With the release of the Bold and the Storm, Blackberry is staking it’s claim on trying to be the leader in the SmartPhone for business market.  Many applications are going to be written for the platform and it has the potential to change the way you do business if it hasn’t already.

Obviously, the iPhone is going to be a huge player.  Right now, it trails the Blackberry for business use but if I had to bet it will make a serious run at the BlackBerry.  iPhone really changed the rules when it comes to user-friendliness and “cool”.  It is definitely a cool customer and has huge potential to revolutionize.

Palm has apparently restaked it’s claim on the PDA market with the Pre.  I haven’t actually seen or played with this system but from the reviews I have read, it may just put Palm back on the playing field.  Many had written Palm off, but remember how successful the Treo was in the day?  Pre may get them back there.

I haven’t been able to try out Android from Google yet but I have some great things about it.  Some of the applications that are being written for it are awesome.  Utilizing GPS positioning and data mashing to provide best prices in the area,  nearest restaurant, etc., etc., etc.

Of course we can’t leave out Microsoft’s Windows Mobile offering.  We all know that they won’t be far behind.  They have a huge installed base, a bunch of big name partners, and pile of cash.

The Game Will Change

No matter which system reigns supreme or which vendor falls the fact remains that the game is changing.  Mobile phones are going to change the way we do business.  It won’t be long and we won’t remember a day that we couldn’t get information at our fingertips no matter where we were.

How can you optimize your business and services to take advantage of these new wonders?

Make Confetti! 4 Tips to limit paper usage January 13, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Tools, Virtual Office.
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One of the things that I see in most businesses when I work with them is that the use of paper as a medium has not decreased.  In fact, I wonder if to some extent the ease of printing hasn’t actually caused it to increase.  Growing up in a household that was funded by the production of paper (Dad worked at a paper manufacturer) I would say thank you!  Ha Ha.  Seriously, I think that there will always be some demand for paper but through intelligent use I think that you can decrease your use, thus lowering your cost of doing business.

Idea #1: Use your document management system

Store all of your electronic documents in a management repository.  Whether that is a Windows file folder, Sharepoint server, or what ever utilize it.  Make sure that people use it and have access to what they need.   I have seen so many instances where the system existed and things were still printed because the people who needed it didn’t have access.

The type of system that you use will probably really depend on your needs and your budget.  Simple folder based systems will store documents but aren’t designed for easy searching of the documents.  More complicated solutions allow for searching and indexing.  Some systems will also add intelligent routing and document handling so the document will end up on the right screen at the right time.

Idea #2: Invest in a projector

If I had to guess I would say that 50% of all printed documentation is printed to hand out at a meeting.  That is a total guess on my part but I bet that the percentage is pretty high.  How many times have you printed 10 copies of some documentation so people can review them during the meeting?  And… how many times do they get pitched after the meeting?

The better solution: invest in a projector and display the necessary documentation when you need it during the meeting.  This will drastically cut back on your cost of printing and supplies and also the amount of paper in your office and garbage.

Idea #3: Invest in a scanner

Probably the single largest source of paper in many offices is the U.S. Postal Service.  Mail is a huge generator of paper in your office.  I would say invest in a scanner.  If you scan mail as it comes in and then put it in the document management service that you have available you get many benefits.

  • No more mail that gets lost.
  • You have a record of correspondence.
  • Your employees can get mail even if they are out of the office
  • Virtual office employees have access
  • With intelligent routing systems even someone being on vacation doesn’t stop the mail being dealt with

Idea #4: Store your faxes

Instead of printing faxes send them to your document management system.  This will allow you to not have to print documents that don’t need to be printed.  It also gives you all of the benefits listed above for mail.   If you are really looking to take the leap there are services available that could allow you to get rid of the fax machine all together.

Now we can make confetti!

The more that you can keep the paper in electronic format the easier it is to track and find.  Also, it makes your office more easily accessible from the virtual world.  You will decrease the cost of doing business when it comes to office and printer supplies.  Also, you will decrease the amount of products that you sending to the recycler or landfill.

If you have other ideas of how to limit paper usage and expense in your office post a comment.  If you need help with the document management and intelligent routing please let me know!

Some thoughts about Social Media December 11, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Social Networking, Virtual Office.
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Recently, I signed up for a Twitter account.  It was a research project for me.  It was hard for me to understand the concept of micro-blogging but I thought I would try it and see.  It is kind of a neat tool that gives you the ability to think “out loud”.  Really I have a long way to go in order to understand the benefits and uses of it but I at least have a little better appreciation.

So, last night I was bouncing around some ideas of how you can use these types of communication tools to bridge the communications gap in business and also in the virtual office world.  The ideas were very high level and formative so I jotted them down and figured I would think through them a little more.

While reading through some of my reader feeds this morning I noticed a post by John Jantsch about how businesses should view these products as tools instead of religions.  What a great point.  From a social perspective many people do view the tools as a sort of religion.  John makes a comment in that article that got me thinking:

Use them in smart ways, not necessarily the ways you see other using them.

What a simple yet effective point.  Utilize the tools to fit your needs.  Be creative in employing the tools.  If you see great ideas incorporate them but be willing to be innovative as well.  When reading this post it made me start thinking through some of the ideas I was working on.   Here is a very high level description of some of the ideas and I will probably explore some further in the future.

Potential Twitter Virtual Office Solutions

From a virtual office perspective these tools may be great ideas to help with the communication gap.  In my earlier post about virtual office, I made the statement that “Virtual offices require communication”.  This is so important to the success of that type of structure.  What do social media networks provide?  Communication.

Here’s the dilemma: how do you allow for collaboration/brainstorming of ideas when your team is virtual and works at different times in diverse locations?  Voice or text chat/conference might work but you have to coordinate time between all the players.  Email could be a solution but there is some level of overhead and headache to utilizing this tool.  One potential solution may be a Twitter or Twitter-type tool.

Twitter or a Twitter-type tool allows project teams to think out loud in a collaborative fashion.  The teams would have the ability to brainstorm ideas, work through problems, provide statuses, and help one another by utilizing a medium like this.  A tool like this would allow a resource to throw out an issue or idea and then have the rest of the team to provide simple feedback to the thought.  Once the idea has been thrown out there it can spur thought and allow it to grow.  One big advantage is that it is stored in a persisted manner.  This means that whenever the other teams members are available they would see it.  They could then provide feedback.  This allows for disconnected brainstorming sessions.

It’s still a very high level idea and would need to be solidified and structure provided (maybe I’ll twitter the idea) but I think that it could work to allow idea collaboration.

Marketing uses

Another great article that I read this morning about social media caught my attention as well.  Ivana Taylor wrote a post on the OPEN forum called “Getting Customers on the Cheap Using Social Media“.  Her main focus is utilizing social networks/media to generate buzz for your company.  This is an extremely powerful use for the tools.  She gives the example of  “On the go with Amy”:

Best Western’s “On the Go with Amy” Blog: Best Western hired Amy, an avid traveler who started a blog that discusses her travel experiences.

This type of concept is fantastic because people are interested in reading about the person’s experiences so they subscribe and then they tell others.  This generates buzz and word of mouth advertising.  You must utilize the tools correctly and not simply spam people as that will have the opposite effect but if utilized correctly it can be powerful.

Take a look at some of Ivana’s other examples as well.  She outlines how people have utilized many of the social tools on the Internet to create buzz.  Great ideas.

Post Game Summary

While I am learning how some of the tools work, I do think that they can be utilized to really make your business more efficient and effective.  Whether you are going to utilize them to help your marketing efforts, streamline your teams, educate your virtual resources, inform customers, or whatever else you come up with you should consider them as an option.  My recommendation would be to learn how the tools work and their benefits and then weigh the value of using them.  Don’t simply create a Facebook site because everyone else has one.  In this media you have to find a way to be authentic and potentially unique if you want to succeed.  Also, you have to find ways to use the tools so it benefits you not just so it copies someone else.

Be creative and be aggressive in building efficiency!

If you are interested my Twitter is: http://www.twitter.com/jeremylattimore

Outsourcing/Flexible Office Space December 9, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process, Green Business, Virtual Office.
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Virtual offices are going to rewrite the way business is done.  One of the things that is going to occur is a significant switch to use outsourced resources (such as virtual assistants, developers, designers, etc.) and also to move to flexible office space arrangements.

I found a great post by John Jantsch (author of Duct Tape Marketing) on the American Express OPEN network discussing the topics.  In this article John discusses the ideas and the benefits for utilizing them.  It is really a giant efficiency gain if you can find the right resources to fit your needs.

The concepts are going to really run against the traditional thinking though.  Virtual resourcing is a very difficult things for many managers and business owners to accept.  This is because they are putting certain aspects of their business in the hands of outside resources.  This can definitely be a scary prospect at first.  As long as you are able to find the right person it can be an excellent arrangement.

I was recently discussing this topic with a long-term client of mine.  We discussed the benefits of an outsourced arrangement over hiring a full time resource.  The main points that I brought up were the fact that many companies don’t have enough work to support someone full-time year round in the capacity.  Also, many times it is too cost prohibitive to find someone with the experience and skillset desired if you are going to hire a full time resource.   Unfortunately, in many cases, if the company decides that they want to hire a full time employee they end up having to settle for someone who may not be able to complete the tasks as efficiently as they wish.  So, basically they end up having to settle on skillset to meet budget requirements due to salary + benefits scenario.

My point to her was if they had work they needed to get completed outsourcing probably made more sense.  That way they could budget the expense to fit their needs and the resource wouldn’t be there billing when they weren’t needed.  They also would be able to afford a higher priced resource because they wouldn’t paying for the resource over the entire year.  Lastly, if they didn’t have things to do they wouldn’t have to find busy work for the resource.

To me, this arrangement makes a lot more sense in a scenario where you need an expert to do a job.  You don’t have the pay the higher costs all year long.  Also, many experts really aren’t interested in doing busy work.  They want to do what they are experts at.

I think that future is going to bring much more flexible work arrangements for many fields.  Because of expense reductions and a keen focus on profitability efficient processing will be required.

Can you make your business more efficient through efficient arranagements?  Let me know if I can help you.

How can a virtual office work?? December 5, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Green Business, Resourcing, Virtual Office.
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I am a very adament proponent of the virtual office/remote employee/telecommuting model of business.  I think that it is the next logical office environment for many businesses and business people.  In today’s environment where expense reductions are a huge priority, energy costs are high (or will be high again), the green movement is charging, and technology is vastly improving the virtual office has not only become feasible but even sensible.  I believe that soon for many people it will become a no brainer and then it will become a standard.  Now, those days are still a little ways away and some businesses won’t work in that model.

Problems

Now, I have heard many positives and from other people many negatives.  I think that the biggest thing that has to change to support the virtual environment is management style.  In today’s environment many managers manage using presence.  Their presence is supposed to be the reason that you are responsible and get your work done.  That is where the adage “The cat’s away the mice will play” came from.  The manager is there and he’ll be looking over your shoulder so you better get things done. 

As an offshoot of that many managers believe that they have to be able to walk out to your desk and sit down and watch you work in order to portray a sense of urgency.  Those same managers are usually the micromanagers that want to watch what time you “clock in” and “clock out”, how long your lunch was, your phone records, your internet logs, your conversations, your meetings, your bathroom breaks, how much coffee you drank, etc.  In this way they can not be as worried about the quality of the hire, they can just lord over you.

Now, I will say those models will not work in a virtual world.  They can’t.  You can’t be present in a virtual office.  You can’t stop by my desk if you’re in New York and I’m in Jackson Wyoming.  It will not work.  Many managers are very scared by this concept.  They don’t see how they can manage without having these “tools”. 

I have also heard that it’s too easy to just not do your work.  Also, it’s too easy for the workers to get distracted.  I agree to some extent and for some people.  That is why hiring the right people and proper management is so important.

Change in management

I just read an article in Entrepreneur magazine that describes some of the techniques that will work well in that environment.   The underlying concept was quite simple … Proper Communication.  Virtual offices require communication.

In the IT development world we have a concept that is called Agile Development.  Within that school of thought there is model called the Scrum model.   Scrum has a few concepts that would help in a virtual environment: sprints, burn down sheets, and Scrum meetings.

First, the sprint.  What is a sprint?  It is a timeframe (typically a month) in which a pre-designated and agreed to amount of work will get done by the team.  This sets the timeframe and amount of work and it is agreed to by all parties.  It is NOT allowed to be extended.

Second, burn down charts.  This is the list of items that will be completed during the sprint.  This list is updated on a daily basis as a running tally of what is left.  If an issue arises, items are removed from the burn down but the sprint is not extended.

Third, scrum meetings.  Scrum meetings are sometimes called the daily standup.  They are standup meetings that happen everyday but are limited in timeframe.  They have very specific guidelines.  They start on time, they are limited to 15 minutes, only stakeholders can speak, and the meetings are the same time and place every day.

So now you have a list of todo’s, a timeframe, and a daily checkpoint.  You have built an accountability structure.  It is very quick to see parts that are sliding.  You have limited your exposure by using daily checkpoints and monthly sprints.  You have a designated amount of work so you have a defined goal.

The Scrum concept is a development concept that was designed based on samples and principles from the manufacturing world.  So the core ideas can be utilized anywhere.  The basic model of accountability seems to be an excellent model for virtual offices.

Accountability

The one other huge issue that has to be corrected is to encourage managers to hold their staff accountable.  In an office it’s easier to get away with underperforming employees because they can be micromanaged.  In a virtual world, you can’t do that.  You need to be quick and decisive.  You need to setup a quick method to reprimand.  There needs to be a distinct set of criteria and a equally distinct set of steps for accountability.  Companies can not afford to allow dead weight in a virtual office.  They need to be decisive when someone is not pulling their weight.

As part of the accountability process, the manager has to hire the right people.  You must hire people who can do the job and can follow the rules of the road.  They need to understand the rules and how the team accountability works.  The resource will need to be open to that.  Also, you are going to look for people who strive for success.

This process is eased by using the Scrum-type structure.  It sets measurable goals.  The resources agree to the goals.  It measures the goals.  All you have to add is an accountability process. 

The Wrapping

Well this became a long post.  I am very passionate about this topic.  I believe that the key to the transition to a virtual office is the change of mindset in management.  It must be structured better and more decisive.  If those things are put in place, the virtual world can be very successful.  It is where the world is headed.  We need to embrace it.  In the global economy luddites are not going to succeed.

What are your thoughts?

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.