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You Don’t Know! January 16, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Focus, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Tools.
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We track data for everything in today’s world.  We have thousands of fields worth of data on our clients, customers, employees, acquiantences… everyone.   How are you using that data?  No… I mean USING that data.  Is there a report that is generated once a day that no one looks at?  Do you have a screen that you can look at if you are interested?

Shouldn’t you be using that data to make more sales, improve expenses, or whatever?  If you aren’t using the data to make things better, why are you storing it?

Found a great blog post about this kind of thing that you will enjoy called The 1 Secret Small Businesses Must Know In Order To Survive And Prosper.  In that article the author makes the statement:

You don’t know what you don’t know.  Failing to realize this fact and make adjustments is a very good way to ensure you make mistakes.

That is absolutely true.  You have all of the data you need available to you but are you using it?  You definitely should be.  Imagine the impact of being able to analyze the information that you have available to you.  Examples:

  1. Which vendor is providing us the best cost/benefit?
  2. Which salesperson is most successful?  Why?
  3. Which customer would be most apt to take on that new add-on for added revenue?
  4. Which customer has provided us with the best referrals?

Those are just a few of the potential questions.  What other questions can you come up with?  Do you have the data to find out?  Why aren’t you?

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!

Thinking outside the box January 6, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business.
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Here’s a great example of rethinking the standards and finding ways to be more efficient.  A company has created a device that allows restaurants to turn their old frying oil into biofuel and then use it to generate energy on site in a co-generation methodology.  This is a great idea.

Out of the Fryer and into the Vegawatt: Used Vegetable Oil Helps Power Restaurant

Co-generation is an excellent concept for businesses who are looking to save on the cost of energy.  I think that people are finally starting to understand that the “green” concepts we hear so much about are going to have to make financial sense as well.  When scenarios arise that you can save money and be “green” you will find that many more businesses will make the leap.  Co-generation is definitely one of those places.

Efficient Payments December 17, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Payment.
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Getting Paid Quickly.  This is something that every company dreams of.  Like it or not getting paid for services is one of the most important things that companies have to deal with.  Even though it’s important, it is very difficult to most businesses.

An article that I recently ran across called “5 Ways to Get Paid Faster” discusses some excellent ways to get paid faster and more consistently.  He brings up a couple of points that I want to key on.

Electronic Transmission

First, he says “Forget regular mail”.  I think that this is an excellent point for two reasons. He outlines the a reason of loss of control.  I am not quite a sure about that because you can’t completely verify that an email is delivered any more than you can a letter.  I would outline a few of reasons of my own.

  1. Speed.  Email is delivered virtually instantaneously.  It’s a lot easier to verify that the email was received later in the day than to remember to verify that a letter was received a few days later.  Also, makes due on receipt mean more when they get it the same day the invoice is generated.
  2. Convenience.  You don’t have to run the letter to the mail box.  How often do you forget to grab the outgoing mail and just do it tomorrow?  This allows for delays in sending the invoices.  If they are electronically generated and sent it will be easier to do more often.
  3. Green.  It’s much more energy and resource efficient (thus green).    There is no paper used, no need for transportation, no need for gasoline, etc.  By utilizing, electronic means you have decreased the need for use of resources.  It is simple but if enough people use this method, it can make a difference.

Automated Follow-up

The second point to highlight is “Have a system to follow up”.  This is an excellent point.  As I described in the email point, how easy is it to forget to verify payments when you are busy with everything else.  Your day gets hectic and you forget to run the report of outstanding payments.  Before long, it’s been 30, 60, or 90 days.  On the other side, how easy would it be to forget sending the check.  You can probably multiply the ease by at least 5 compared to your ease of forgetting.  Also, most people don’t like to follow up so they don’t.  If you put the three problems together you can see the benefits to automation.

  1. Convenience.  You don’t have to remember, it happens automatically.
  2. Consistent.  Because it happens on schedule the reminders always go out on time.  This will also act as a prod to your customers.  They may have forgotten but when the reminder comes in they will have to remember.
  3. You don’t have to do it.  The system does the dirty work.  It is set on specific rules.  The reminder will go out.  You don’t want to follow up, it will.

I would extend on his idea.  You should really consider utilizing automated systems to send invoices and follow ups.  This allows all of your payment systems to be consistent.  This will reap benefits.  Many of the times, consistency in billing will lead to consistency in payments.  If the systems are automated, it will not require that you intervene.  So if you are busy, the roads are bad, you’re on vacation, etc the invoices and reminders will still go out.

Electronic Payment

I would add one other bullet point to his list.  Allow electronic payment.  This allows your customers to deal with the payment conveniently.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Allow payment via your website (credit card and check)
  2. Setup recurring payment options for recurring billing arrangements
  3. Accept credit cards or ACH via telephone
  4. Consider utilizing E-Check options to speed check processing

Grand Total

You provide a service to the customer.  You want to be paid for your services.  Your employees want to be paid.  If you can make your billing fast and consistent and the payment very convienent you will see faster and more consistent payments.

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.

Interesting Green Business Ideas? November 25, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business.
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When we consider what are processes are and what can be done better and then add in some creativity we can come up with some great efficiency options.  It is key that we are creative in this process though because some of the best ideas may seem a little bit odd when first discussed.  I have a few examples of solutions that seem odd at first glance.  Some have been very successful others could potentially succeed or fail but the jury is still out.

UPS No Left Turns

UPS spent quite a lot of time and effort reviewing their driving patterns in an effort to decrease their fuel consumption.  They came up with quite a few suggestions that they are offering to the general public.  One of the experiments that they did was to eliminate as many left turns in their routing as possible.  Their assumption was that you spend a lot of time idling in traffic if you make left turns.  They posted information about this on their website that describes the theory and the benefits.  Here is a small part:

In 2007, UPS route planning technology, which minimizes left hand turns:

  • shaved nearly 30 million miles off already streamlined delivery routes;
  • saved 3 million gallons of gas; and
  • reduced emissions by 32,000 metric tons of CO2 – the equivalent of removing 5,300 passenger cars off the road for an entire year.

When this idea was first pitched I will guarantee that someone either said or thought “What are you talking about?”.  I am certain that it seemed like a crazy idea.  The innovator saw that there was potential and experimented to see if the theory would work.  It did and as you can see it made a huge difference.

Sam’s Club Square Milk Cartons

While listening to a podcast recently I learned that Sam’s Club has been analyzing the transportation of staple items for potential efficiency gains.  One of the changes that they are making is that they are changing the shape and size of milk containers to be more transport friendly and efficient.  I found a link to the press release on Sam’s website that outlines the idea.  Here’s an excerpt of the what the concept does for them:

Today’s new square or case-less milk jugs do not require crates or racks for shipping and storage. Instead, the newly designed milk gallon is self stacking because the spout is flatter and each gallon can rest on another during transport, as well as while on display. It’s estimated trucks used for shipping from the processor to club can accommodate 9% more milk — 4,704 gallons per truck or approximately 384 more jugs — without any metal racks

Imagine how large of savings both from an environmental perspective and pure economic perspective this “simple” change will make.  Although 9% seems like a small number think about how much that means to a retailer as large as Wal-Mart and how much milk they will touch over the next 5 to 10 years.  It will have a dramatic effect. 

Japanese Company Employees on Roof

Recently, while reading articles about green developments I ran across an article of a Japanese company that is having all of their employees sit outside on the roof of their building in order to limit the use of energy to light and reduce carbon emissions.  I think that this might be one of the strangest ideas that I have heard but who knows.  Here is an excerpt of the article:

Japanese office supply manufacturer Kokuyo has mandated its employees to work in a newly constructed rooftop office for 90 days each year, or about a third of their annual work days.

Again, I am not certain that this is great idea or not so don’t put all your employees on the roof when it’s 0 degrees outside.  This one may well be the idea that seems strange at first and then a little later still seems strange. 

Sum it up

The ideas above are not designed to be implemented by every company and probably wouldn’t work at every company.  They were thrown out there to be examples of how some strange, crazy, off the cuff ideas turn into real innovations.  Also, they may point out that some are just strange. 

I would definitely think that you should consider what will make your company more efficient.  When you do think outside of the box (or the milk container) to come up with innovative ideas as to how to make yourself better.  Some times those strange ideas turn into common logic in the future.  Imagine the guy at Xerox who invented the original computer mouse!  Now, it is a standard in today’s market.

Look for efficiencies, challenge common “knowledge”, and be innovative.  Let me know if I can help!

Interesting Article about the Strategy of going green November 24, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business.
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I just read a post on Harvard Business’ Leading Green blog that I really thought might be something to consider. 

http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/leadinggreen/2008/11/the-strategic-obligation-of-su.html

It discusses the idea of how many companies are focusing on green ideals simply for the recognition of being green or maybe saving a few bucks on an electric bill but there are strategic reasons to be as green as possible.  The concepts that are outlined are very interesting to consider.

Much of what is discussed in this article outlines how you can utilize efficiencies to your own strategic advantage.  An example is the idea of using local vendors to supply your processes instead of distant vendors.  This is a green concept to save fuel but from a strategic viewpoint, how much will that decision save you if gas/diesel prices go back up or when shipping costs rise?  As the basics in life continue to rise in price process efficiencies will prove to not only save a little bit of money but also to better position you in comparison to your competitors.

I think that this is a very important thing to keep in mind when considering process efficiencies and green efficiencies… what is the long-term strategic impact of this decision.  It may only save a little money the first year but how much over the long term and what advantage can it provide your business?

My opinion on this is quite simple that creating business efficiencies will pay dividends for many years in decreased expenses, increased revenue, and strategic advantages.

Hope that this article and link is something that is thought provoking.  Let me know what you think.

Business Example: Stanley Steemer November 18, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficient Technologies, Green Business.
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Well, I guess that I find examples in some strange places.  Recently, though the technology came to me in my home.

About 3 or 4 years ago, we had Stanley Steemer come out to our house and clean the carpets.  At that time Stanley utilizes the tried and true method of carbon paper.  They fill it out and you get the pink copy.   On top of that, in order to utilize a credit card… you guessed it… rub a pencil over the numbers on the carbon paper.  Obviously, there are some problems with this method.

Today’s Stanley Steemer is not in the carbon paper era any longer.  When the crew arrived at my house a week ago, they brought with them a handheld kiosk.  It had all of my information and of course the ability to modify my order with all the other things that I needed.  Once they finished cleaning, they walked through the order, and allowed me to sign that they had done the work.  A simple swipe of my card and a wireless connection later and I had paid my bill.  The kiosk had a printer attached to it (although I would have preferred an emailed receipt) and they printed and handed the information over to me.

I am always impressed when I see companies who have taken the step to make their businesses more efficient and in this case more green.  Mobile applications and wireless access provide so many options but many companies don’t embrace the opportunities to utilize it.  It can be a daunting task to make these kinds of changes but imagine the savings on supplies and denied credit cards not to mention removing the identity theft issues of all crews having the credit card numbers. 

This is a very simple example of how one company has utilized technology to make their processes more efficient.  Is there a way that you can utilize mobile technology to make your business simpler and more efficient?  Can you utilize it to reduce paperwork and follow up?

If there is any way that I can help you, please feel free to contact me.

Simplifying Organizations November 10, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Development Process, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies.
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I recently finished reading a book called Simple Architectures for Complex Enterprises by Roger Sessions.  The book is about building architectures that are simple instead of overly complicated.  

System Complication

Organizations and business models are very complicated.  Add on regulation, best practices, trade secrets, etc and the business processes can be very difficult to utilize.  Many times these complicated systems cause issues for the businesses because employees can get lost in the details.  It also can make it extremely difficult to train new employees.  This causes a real problem should one of the employees go on long-term disability, maternity leave, or worse yet to the competitor.  Many times it is not a scenario where a temporary or new employee can just step right in and take over.

The other issue is that if the employee were to forget a step or not do it correctly it can really cause issues for your business.  Sometimes it may be as simple as having to fix the mistake but other times it could result in regulatory or even legal issues. 

Frameworks

All of the issues raised above and many more cause the need for frameworks.  A framework is structure that is put in place in order to standardize and simplify a process or set of processes.  In many organizations, there are many frameworks in place:  network frameworks, software frameworks, process frameworks, etc.  By utilizing properly designed frameworks employees should be able to do their jobs more quickly and efficiently in a very standardized way.  This will make the organization much more efficient overall.

Framework Issues

Many organizations have become very framework adverse.  This is due to the fact that they have invested a lot of money and time into frameworks and not seen the corresponding results.  Many times this is due to the fact that the framework has become way too complicated.  The book I described earlier has the following quote in it:

The paradox about complexity is that it is simple to make systems complex; it is complex to make systems simple.  Many people think that it takes a lot of talent to create a highly complicated architecture.  That  isn’t true.  It takes a lot of talent to take complicated ideas and realize them in a simple architecture.

I believe that this is absolutely true.  In many cases the frameworks try to handle the complexity of all the business without ever taking into account that the point is make it simpler and more efficient to use.  Instead they have only focused on handling all the business complexity in a single place.  In the end, the framework has cost the business quite a bit of money and has not made them more efficient and possibly made it harder to get things done.

Simplifying Frameworks

In order to make frameworks really help businesses they must be simple to use.  For this to happen the person creating them must focus on simplicity while also solving the problem.  This can be a very difficult thing to do.  Another quote from Session’s book says:

Anybody can create a complex architecture.  It takes no skill at all.  Architectures naturally seek the maximum possible level of complexity all on their own. 

It goes on to say:

The observation that architecture are naturally attracted to complexity is actually predicted by physics – in particular, the law of entropy.

All of this to say that it is natural for frameworks to become more complicated and chaotic if someone doesn’t focus on keeping them reigned in.  This is the job of the architect.  It is by far the hardest job that architect has.  As stated earlier, it is quite complicated to keep the frameworks simple to use.

Summarizing

I hope that this article wasn’t too techie or high level.  I found Mr. Sessions’ book to be very interesting and should serve as a reminder to follow the KISS theory when building frameworks.  Frameworks can have a significant impact on organizations in terms of business efficiency.  On the other hand, if not properly handled they can actually have the opposite effect or making businesses less efficient.

Do you have frameworks in place to make yourself more efficient?  If so, can you make them simpler?  If you don’t have them, are there ways to create them to make your business simpler?

Let me know if I can help you with creation or simplification of frameworks.