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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.

What is a business system? August 18, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Efficiency Process.
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When I utilize the term “business system” it has a very simple meaning.  It is the system or process that makes your business run.  It is not a software system or piece of equipment, it is simply the steps that your business goes through to provide your product or service.  This may be all manual or in some cases it may be completely outsourced.  It really depends on your business and your way of providing your product or service.

Successful franchise businesses have recognized the value of business systems.  They have analyzed, documented and reproduced that same system in each of the franchises.  Think of McDonald’s, no matter where you get a cheeseburger in the United States they are pretty much identical.  This is due to the system that McDonald’s has put in place to provide their product.  This allows them to provide their product in a uniform fashion with millions of different people preparing it.  This is a business system.

Many other businesses have never even spent the time to realize they have a system in place or have never tried to determine if their system is the most efficient for what they provide.  In many cases their business system has been dictated by reacting to circumstances that have arisen while trying to provide their goods and services.

In the next post we will discuss how a business system analysis can help to provide businesses with a more efficient mechanism of providing their product or service.

What do you mean by business efficiency? August 12, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Efficiency Process.
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Short Answer

A very simple definition to this question would be finding ways to prepare your business to handle more work with less effort.  That is not to say that you get rid of staff necessarily, maybe you would just be able to increase your work load without having to increase head count.

There is a quote on wikipedia under “Business Process Reengineering” that I really think does a great job of explaining adding business efficiency:

…the major challenge for managers is to obliterate non-value adding work, rather than using technology for automating it (Hammer 1990). This statement implicitly accused managers of having focused on the wrong issues, namely that technology in general, and more specifically information technology, has been used primarily for automating existing work rather than using it as an enabler for making non-value adding work obsolete.

I believe that best explains what my focus for business efficiency would be.  I believe that we should work to analyze the current process and see if there are places to rework the process to make it better.  Then as step two we should analyze if there are ways to use technology to enable the organization to work on other tasks.  In many cases, these two steps can yield great results.

Systems

You hear the term business systems often and I am going to add a definitional post as to what I see in this realm.  From a simple standpoint, a business system is a process that makes your business operate.  This may be as manual as someone in your office preparing and invoice and putting it in the mail to very automated capabilities. 

Processes/Standards

Probably two very over-utilized terms in the business world.  Again, I will expand on this topic but from a high-level processes and standards tell you how to make the system “operate”.  This will tell someone how to get the invoice printed, stuffed in the envelope, and sent out to the client.

Gain Business Efficiency

Now that we have given a basic definition of how the standard business runs, we can describe how to optimize your efficiency.  The system that you are currently operating in your business is probably working just fine for you.  It is sending out the invoices and getting the bills paid.  The question is really two-fold from there:

  1. If you grow can you continue to do the process the same way without adding resources? 
  2. Are there ways to make the system easier allowing for freeing up of time for existing resources?

What could you do if you had another 2 hours a week from one of your employees or 5 of your employees?  Are there other items that have been waiting for completion?

This is where process/business system analysis and possibly re-engineering come in.  The analyst will help walk through the process/system and analyze the purposes and reasons behind each step.  Once the analysis has been done, a throrough analysis would be done by a software architect to see if technology can simplify the process/system.  Once both analysis processes are complete, you are provided the analysis and recommendations and can decide how to proceed.

This process simply looks at your processes and gives you options with what you can do to optimize your resources.

I hope that this article helps.