Posts Tagged 'technology'

On Virtuality

I created a post a couple days ago regarding questions to ask if you want to be more mobile yourself, or create a more mobile, virtual office.  Now is such a great time to start or grow a business.  The technology exists to outsource so many business processes and operations…which leads to more efficiency.  When entrepreneurs can focus on their core business, without having to be swallowed up by non-core activities, the business can grow. 

If I can be anywhere, and be confident that my phone will be answered, my bills paid, my invoices sent, my HR issues taken care of…I can give 100% of my attention to growing the business.  Far too often, however, I see business owners that are afraid to give up control of administration.  Most business owners don’t start a business thinking “I can’t wait to pay bills, choose health insurance plans, and clean up my books.”

Many entrepreneurs think they can’t afford to outsource these functions.  However, what is the opportunity cost?  How much more business could you earn if you spent all your team developing new business?  How much more time would you bill? 

My feeling is that every small business needs to put a plan in place to move toward outsourcing as much as possible.  The plan is necessary to make certain data security, business processes, customer service are taken into account.  Only when non-core functions that can be outsourced, or virtualized, are, small businesses can grow to and past their full potential. 

Future blog posts will discuss some of the functions that can be outsourced, and how to go about the planning.

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So You Want to be More Mobile?

With the power of laptops and the proclivity of wireless Internet access, more companies are trying to “go mobile.”  However, being more mobile means different things to different people, and each companies will have their own reasons and their own challenges.  Following are some things to contemplate before jumping into a large laptop purchase.
 
Why do you want to be more mobile?
• Are you looking to do more work from your client sites? 
• Do you think it your employees will be more productive? 
• Are you trying to cut down on the need to commute? 
• Do you need to travel?

This is an important question because the answer has an impact on the technology you choose.  If the idea is to always be on the move, you will need to think about very mobile laptops with long battery lives.  They will also have to be a little more able to handle the shock of being thrown into bags, in and out of the car, and possibly even make it through some spills. 
 
What do you need to do your work?
• Do you have certain applications you need to access? 
• Are they on a server or on your PC? 
• How vital is email?
 
This question will determine the need for a server.  It will also help determine which laptops to purchase, and the need for a firewall and/or router.  If there is a server-based application (i.e. timekeeping software) you use, you will need to make certain the server is configured to allow access to the application from outside the firewall.  The speed of your internet connection will also partially determine the speed at which users can access the application.  If email is vital to your work, you will need to have multiple manners of accessing email.
 
How technologically capable are your users?
• Are your users comfortable using laptops? 
• Are they computer literate enough to have multiple log-ins? 
• Will they have the ability to be supported remotely?

Countless hours of productivity are lost when users cannot access their network because they can’t use a VPN.  Also, if they are the types of users that require someone to physically fix issues, mobility is not an efficient option.  Mobile users have to be comfortable and creative enough to get work done even if there is some issue.
 
What security requirements do you have?
• Do you have regulatory requirements governing your IT security? 
• Do you keep vital client information on laptops?

In answering this question you determine the level of management needed on each laptop, and on the network access.  Keep in mind every laptop is an entry point into your network.  If someone can hack into a laptop, or even steals one, they may gain entry into the network.  Also, a lost, stolen, or hacked laptop can put sensitive client or company information at risk. 
 
How will your users access the Internet?

This question is somewhat answered by the answers to the previous questions.  Using free wi-fi hotspots is not necessarily the safest option.  Operators of hotspots are making their networks open, which is inviting to hackers.  They can sit in a coffee shop and access other laptops on the network.  Also, wi-fi hotspots are not always reliable.  If one of your employees absolutely has to get online, and the local coffee shop’s Internet connection is down, you are out of luck.  A mobile broadband card and plan from your mobile provider might be a safer, more reliable option.
 
New technology has afforded us the ability to be more mobile, and more efficient.  However, a mobile workforce is not a situation to jump into blindly.  It requires an investment of capital and time to make certain it is the right move for you.

Finally, someone gets it!

I met with a prospect yesterday that actually gets it.  They are an older company – 55 years old – but have recently had an ownership change.  The new owner has already made changes, and is growing the business.  They are actually looking for a technology partner to help advise them for their growth projections, rather than just to fix stuff, and order new PC’s when they get a new employee.

I’m not by any means a “technologist.”  I don’t think new technology will change the world, and I don’t think all companies need their own email server and the latest and greatest CRM and ERP tools.  I do, however, know that the technology currently available can make businesses more efficient, and more profitable.  The key to making technology a valuable tool instead of a necessary evil is planning. 

When companies have their technology infrastructure coincide with their business plan, it becomes a tool to lower costs, increase revenue, and grow value. 

A company that is planning to double in size needs to plan ahead.  This will give them to opportunity to buy PC’s at a better price.  It will also allow their new employees to get into their job and start helping the company faster.  It’s never good to spend the money and time to hire someone, only to have them sit at an empty desk for 2 weeks, and to not have email for a month. 

Technology planning can also help manage this growth by digitzing and streamlining processes.  Company growth leads to beaurocracy within the company, and the proper technology plan can help mitigate the time spent closing sales, processing invoices, paying vendors, and communicating with clients. 

I know this seems very obvious.  Much like having architectural plans prior to building, or remodeling, a house.  However, many businesses get very focused on the day to day, and forget to plan.

Back Once Again

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted here.  I have moved into a new house, which is phenomenal.  I have had some family business issues, and I am at a crossroads with my own company.  I can’t remember sleeping more than 4 or 5 hours in a night without the aid of liquor.  I’ve lost 13 lbs. without attempting diet or exercise.  I definitely have not been as mentally involved in my relationships (particularly with my wife) as I should be.

I had a terrible Friday.  I found out we lost the bid for a large state agency contract because we got our bid to the office 2 minutes late.  2 minutes lost us $200,000.  I was angry at the state office for not allowing our bid over 2 minutes.  I was angry with us for not getting the bid done earlier.  I couldn’t even talk Friday night or Saturday morning.

I was in the shower Saturday morning, and had an epiphany.  I know how to, at the very least, save my investment, and at best, save my company.  I was so excited, I couldn’t stop talking.  I got the wheels in motion immediately.  I’m not sure if it was the hot water, the time I needed to think, a divine presence, or a combination of all of these.  I don’t know why, at dark moments, answers come.  I like to think I’m a good, moral, person, and I deserve good things to happen. 

I also like to think that I was given some level of intelligence to put myself in situations that will benefit me, and that I can see the answers that many would not see.

I don’t know how it will all turn out.  I have learned in the last few months that a bit of prayer can put me at ease, and that I should trust my own thoughts.   

Technology in a Down Market

I won’t dare to utter the dreaded “R-word,” but we are all aware of the current economic situations.  Gas prices are up.  Credit markets are hurting.  The almighty dollar is not so mighty.  Companies are starting to scale back their capital and operational expenditures.  This is a great time to look at processes and determine how to become more efficient and more cost conscious.  

 

This might seem like a poor time to look at spending money on technology, or on technology services.  However, that technology may make your company more efficient, and able to stave off the downturn.

 

One of the first things companies can do is to increase the mobility of their workers.  This means there is less gas spent driving to the office and back, which is good for the economy, good for the employees wallets, and good for company efficiency.  If an employee can be working each day right from the get-go, or from a client’s office, that means what was once driving time is now work time.  In addition, I can tell you we have closed deals mainly because we had the ability to make changes to a proposal or service contract while sitting with the client.  If you don’t have to leave their office, you don’t give them extra time to think about it. 

 

Another option is to choose to outsource technology service rather than have a full-time IT employee.  A company can usually get a more diverse level of technology talent for less money than a salary plus benefits. 

 

Companies can also find ways to make their processes more efficient through the use of technology.  Forms can be standardized and saved to central servers to be accessed by everyone.  In this way, more repetitive, data-entry type work can be performed by lower-salaried employees, while professionals are able to bring in more clients and perform the analytical work.

 

The key in a down economy is to view technology spending as an investment for which there will be a return.

Thoughts from Envision 08

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Envision 08 conference in San Antonio.  To be completely honest, I didn’t have real high expectations.  I thought I might meet a few people who could be potential clients.  Mostly, I was hoping to talk with new people and learn about other businesses.  That is something I really enjoy.  I am always trying to figure out who I can introduce to whom. 

After arriving in San Antonio, I checked into the Marriot Rivercenter and was very happy with my room and the hotel.  I grabbed a quick workout, and headed to the networking in the exhibit hall.  I bumbed into some friends from Houston, and met some new people.

We adjourned to dinner in the main salon and were greeted by Richard Scruggs of the Texas A&M Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship.  I quickly realized that in a conference of about 350 people, I was one of out about 5 or 6 Longhorns.  There was one at my table, but he was even from a competing company to mine.

After dinner, Marcus Buckingham was the keynote speaker.  I had heard of him, but must admit, I had never read his books.  I usually don’t expect much from keynote speakers.  I expect them to hawk their latest book, and give some “rah-rah” speech…possibly even getting members of the audience involved on stage.  Marcus was amazing, though.  He was extremely witty, and not in the usual cheesy keynote speaker way. I thought he had great information, a very engaging style, and a message I really enjoyed hearing.  We even got a copy of his latest book.  He was a fantastic start to the conference, and I went to bed thinking about how I can capitalize on my strengths.

The next morning was Guy Kawasaki.  He gave his talk on The Art of Innovation.  Of course, he has some great anecdotes from his time with Apple and as a VC in California.  He is very approachable.  However, as with many entrepreneurs and VC’s who give advice, I take his advice somewhat lightly.  He has had some successes, but those don’t always translate into my business or my life.  I always try to take one or two things from every talk I hear.  What I took from Guy was to have a mantra, not a mission statement.  

I attended a breakout session by Paul Barker of the Afterburner Group about adding value to your business.  I really enjoyed his talk, as I am always trying to add value rather than just adding revenue.  If the revenue I add isn’t valuable, it might not be worth the time and effort.   

After some networking in the exhibit hall, we went in to lunch.  The speaker was Flip Flippen.  My wife has heard him speak and has taken his Capturing Kids’ Hearts course.  His talk was about breaking through the constraints that hold us back in life.  He was very entertaining, and had some good data and anecdotes.  There were some areas where he and Marcus were similar, and there were some conflicting ideas.  Of course, afterward, Mr. Flippen had to answer questions relating to the differences between his and Marcus’s views, and he did so very well.  He was even kind enough to sign a book for my wife afterward. 

I spent the afternoon getting some work done, and missed the afternoon keynote.  That evening we were bussed to a ranch.  The bus ride was incredbily long because of traffic, but I think the wait was worth it.  The ranch was beautiful, and the food was excellent.  I think everyone enjoyed getting out of the hotel and being outdoors.  I had the chance to talk with quite a few people about business.

The next morning the keynote speaker was Stephen Covey.  Of course, I expected his to be the best.  I was a little disappointed though.  I felt as if I had to have read his books to follow along.  There were several diagrams used, as well as teminology from the 7 Habits.  He is also a very monotone speaker, so jokes and changes of topics are difficult to discern.  Maybe it was because it was early, but I really feel like I got the least out of Mr. Covey’s talk.

After I packed up, I had the opportunity to be on the radio through my friend Kathy Bowersox.  I really appreciated it, and I had just enough time to break off an email to my friends to let them know to listen. 

I actually bought the latest Marcus Buckingham book on audio CD for the car ride home.  I have been listening to it, and have even taken the Strengths Finder exam.  I highly recommend it.  I am now a big fan of his, and look forward to reading all his books.

Nice Green-ery

I’ve been saving this little gripe for Earth Day (not really…i’ve been thinking about it, and Earth Day seemed to be a good tiem to get it off my chest).  I have an HP OfficeJet all-in-one printer.  I recently went to OfficeMax to buy the overpriced ink.  I always enjoy playing the “will this fit my printer” game.  Here’s an idea…how about universal officejet printer cartridges?  How novel.  A little standardization would be great.

Anyway…hoping to save a little money, and a little environment, I chose the OfficeMax brand of printer cartridge, which is really just a refilled cartrdige.  I plugged it into my printer, and i get an error message telling me it is the wrong cartridge.  It is exactly the same as a brand new HP cartridge, except for one minor detail…HP doesn’t make any additional revenue when i buy the recycled one. 

Now, I’m all for capitalism, but HP has taken this too far.  After purchasing, and several cartridges, they won’t even give me the choice to use a recycled cartridge.  I, as a small business owner, can’t save a little money, nor can i do a small favor to the environment buy re-using a tiny bit of plastic.

This is the last HP printer i will ever own.

NICE ENVIRONMENTALISM HP!!!