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Your own power?? January 14, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficient Technologies, Green Business.
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Is creating your own power going to be a way for your business/you to cut expenses?  It may very well be!  This is a topic that I definitely find quite interesting.  There are so many ways to create your own power/heat and the technology is advancing very rapidly so it could be economically feasible pretty soon.

Waste Fuels

Recently, I have run across a couple of very interesting articles about utilizing waste to generate energy.  This is an idea that will become a huge focus for many businesses in the future.  Imagine being about to help the waste problem and the energy problem at the same time!  What an interesting concept.  Here are a few articles about the potential of this:

Waste Management Sets Baseline for Environmental Plans

Out of the Fryer & Into the Vegawatt: Used Cooking Oil Helps Power Restaurant

Groundbreaking Initiated for Unique Renewable Fuels Plant in Louisiana; Dynamic Fuels Facility to Produce High Quality, Clean-Burning Diesel and Jet Fuels

This is a fascinating idea that I think has a lot of potential.  Turn waste products into energy.  They are being disposed of already.  The companies utilizing the technologies will benefit by being able to reduce costs by utilizing their garbase to produce energy for their business or possibly even for sale.

Solar Energy

This is another place with huge potential for creating/selling power.  If you have a facility of your own imagine the potential of a solar array on top of the building.  You could drastically decrease the amount of power you have to draw from the grid thus reducing your electricity bills.  In some places this could also impact the issues caused by brown-outs or even black-outs.

MGM Tower to Receive Third Largest Solar Installation in Los Angeles

FedEx Adds More Solar-Powered Operations To Facilities in California

Other opportunities

Obviously, there are many other technologies that have potential to deliver the same if not better benefits.  You may have the option to use GeoThermal heat, add windmills, build a dam, or maybe even your own nuclear reactor.  There are many options and the options will probably expand over the coming years.

Landing

Obviously, I am not sure that these options will work out for everyone.  This topic is very interesting and I think that the future will find a lot more of this type of thing occurring.  As these options become cheaper there will be much wider adoption.  There is one fact that really drives this market: When being green saves green it will excel.

Are you already doing something like this?  Post a comment.

Thinking Differently Required January 9, 2009

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficiency Process, Efficient Technologies, Green Business, Payment.
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Sometimes we wonder why things are done like they are.  Sometimes we just accept things as “that’s just how it’s done”.  Other times it just drives us crazy.  The blog post on the Trust Matters blog yesterday fits one of the those drives us crazy times.  I happen to agree with the author that the same thing is also a pet peeve of mine.

Trust Matters Blog: Keep Your Damn Receipt!

Rant

The fact that I always get a receipt drives me nuts as well.  As Mr. Green points out there are times when it makes sense.  Such as I want to return it or it’s a business lunch etc.  Do I really need a receipt when I buy a fountain drink or a candy bar?  Do I really need a receipt at McDonald’s?  No.

I will throw out one other pet peeve with receipts.  Do I really need 45 pieces of paper every time that I eat out?  It amazes me in a computerized world that I seriously get 7 feet of receipt paper to pay the bill at Applebee’s or Chili’s.  I really don’t need all of that.  I can understand that the credit card companies still want a signature but other than that why all the paper.

Options

I appreciate it when someone/gas pump/ATM asks if I want it.  I usually say no but it’s nice to have the option.  I think that it makes no sense for me to get a receipt.  Do I actually balance them up against my card statement?  Or worse, what if I paid cash?  I typically end up just throwing away/shredding all of those little pieces of paper.

I would really like to see another set of options added.  They are all electronic options.  My post a few months ago about the Apple Store outlined what my vision would be like.  Here would be some of the potential options:

1. Sign the receipt electronically

2. RF Based CC payment at location (table, gas pump, grocery store)

3. Pay with cell phone

4. Question asked: How would you like your receipt?  (E-Mail, SMS, etc., or via tree)

I think that the time has come to expect the ability to have these options.  The systems already exist.  This is not sci-fi type technology.  Applebee’s already has the PDA that I can sign on for Car Side To Go.  Why not at the table?  Not only are these more green options, NO ONE wants the paper receipts.  AND… if they do give them the option.

Thinking Differently is Required.  No more because that’s how we’ve always done it!

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.

Minneapolis Airport to Use Paperless Boarding Passes December 11, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Efficient Technologies, Green Business.
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This seems like a great idea as long as it’s implemented well. Travelers can download boarding passes to cell phones or PDAs. Will be interesting to watch.

http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/stories/2008/12/08/daily43.html

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?

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.

Interesting Green Tips November 18, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Green Business.
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I just ran across this article that gives some ideas of greening up your business without spending all of your green.  Take a look for some suggestions:

http://www.greenbiz.com/feature/2008/11/17/top-8-ways-go-green-cheap

Hope that you can find these useful.

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.