Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dynamic Case Management: Business Benefits Wrapped in Cold, Dead Fish

I and others have been saying for years that if you let many if not most technically focused people open a sushi bar, the sign outside would likely say something like "cold, dead fish for sale." It's a metaphor for the unfortunate fact that technical people are often…inconsistent in their abilities to communicate the value of their knowledge and efforts to the non-technical.

In this context, I absolutely HATE the term "dynamic case management." In case you haven't yet heard said term, DCM is currently a Hot Thing among growing numbers of pundits and observers. It's supposedly the way that decision makers in marketing, customer care and related areas will develop and leverage that real-time, 360-degree view of everybody who matters to the business, or at least its revenue stream(s).

So far, OK. Now, here's where the cold, dead fish comes in.

In the first place, I am a customer, partner, prospect or competitor, and therefore the focal point of a relationship to be nurtured. NOT a "case" to be "managed." Ugh!

In the second place, there's way too much focus on the technologies that enable and support DCM, and too little on the goal itself. And that goal is not DCM, or the implementation of any specific DCM-related technologies.

The ultimate goal of DCM and related initiatives such as those focused on customer experience management (CEM) is to improve relationships with customers, partners and prospects, and the value of those relationships to the business. Specifically, this means ensuring that every interaction with your business is optimized, for those interacting with your business and for your business. (I call this online experience optimization or OEO.) It also means ensuring that the knowledge generated by those interactions can be channeled in ways that improve and refine the business processes that drive and support future such interactions. (I call this business knowledge optimization or BKO.)

These are all business goals that are human-centric and process-driven. To the extent that DCM efforts share these two characteristics, their chances for success are improved. To the extent that they do not, their likelihood of failure is increased. Whatever you want to call it, and whichever technologies you consider or deploy.

DCM is not the destination. It is an important step in the journey toward making your business more agile, more responsive, more social and more successful. DCM is also both a challenge and an opportunity for those seeking to make their companies more human-centric, process-driven. The goals, challenges and opportunities surrounding DCM require committed, focused collaboration among all key leaders and decision makers within an organization. The benefits are there to be had, if there is sufficient will and focus. And more plain-language business talk. And a lot less cold, dead fish.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Inventory Management: New Collaboration Opportunities

Inventory management? What's that got to do with collaboration? A fair amount, it turns out…

What do pundits and observers like me repeat almost as often as the answer, "Well, that depends?" How about "IT and 'the business' must work together more closely!" Heard that one before?

Well, that's another type of collaboration. When it works, it drives higher levels of corporate agility and responsiveness, lead and prospect conversion, customer satisfaction, revenues and profits. When it's not? Well, you've probably seen that before…

But how to decide where to focus efforts intended to increase and improve collaboration among "the suits" and "the geeks?" I submit that a great starting point is anyplace you can identify that costs the company money, leaves money on the table or both. I further submit that one such opportunity is…inventory management.

Why? Because it's how customers perceive and determine how agile and responsive your company is. Which means everything that supports good inventory management is critical to your company. Because getting it wrong costs your company money, leaves money on the table or both.

And remember, your customers, partners, prospects, competitors and purchase influencers are all increasingly participatory inhabitants of "the mobile, social cloud." Which means that what you do well gets trumpeted widely almost immediately, as does all that you do wrong. Such as not getting what your customers want to them in a timely fashion. Inventory management again.

And let's not forget the IT connection. After all, it's your technology infrastructure that makes it possible for you to monitor social media, be more responsive and agile, and manage your critical inventories. But at many if not most businesses, 60 to 80 percent of the IT budget is being spent on just keeping what's already in place working with what's already in place. Not much room to take on new initiatives such as improving inventory management.

What to do?

Do what you need to do to get sales, marketing, operations and IT around the same table to discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by inventory management at your company. Determine how and how well inventory is being managed now, and where improvements might be found most quickly. Then, identify and road-test some premise-based, cloud-based and cloud-enabled inventory management solutions that show promise for your company.

A jump start: several worthy candidate solutions appear in an article published by Inc. in May 2011. My favorite: Fishbowl Inventory. It integrates with Intuit's QuickBooks and offers options that can take a company from better inventory management to more and better sales, fulfillment and resource planning and management, as recently covered by eWeek.

We in the punditocracy blather on incessantly about how business and IT have to get better at working together. A great way to foster such collaboration in meaningful ways is to focus on areas that avoid leaving money on the table while improving customer satisfaction, corporate perception and revenues. Improved inventory management can do all of these things.

A Special Offer: If you're interested in Fishbowl Inventory, drop a line to vip@fishbowlinventory.com. I've negotiated a relationship with the company that guarantees that every one of my readers who uses that e-mail address will get priority treatment and help getting started with their free trial of the software. And if you promise to share your feedback with me for possible inclusion in future blog posts or research (anonymously if you prefer), you'll get undying gratitude from me -- AND a five-percent discount from Fishbowl if you purchase Fishbowl Inventory! A win for everybody!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

ERP: The Solution Every Business Needs But No One Wants -- Or Do They?

One of the most important focus areas of business collaboration is on key business processes. Herewith, a suggestion for enabling more and better collaboration on one such process, and why enterprise resource planning (ERP) isn't more popular at more companies -- yet.

I recently had a great introductory briefing with members of the leadership team at Fishbowl, makers of Fishbowl Inventory, a very nifty inventory management solution that integrates pretty seamlessly and is pretty darned popular among users of QuickBooks.

The stimulating conversation reminded me of something Yankee Group founder Howard Anderson used to say in presentations about business technology adoption trends. To paraphrase, hundreds of thousands of drill bits are sold each year, but no one who buys one wants a drill bit. What those buyers want are holes.

No one wants ERP. Especially no one who works for a resource-constrained smaller or mid-sized business (SMB). But every smart leader and decision maker at every company shares two characteristics.
  1. They work someplace that sells something.
  2. That something represents an inventory that need management.
In short, where "ERP" is concerned in the real life lived by most decision makers, especially at SMBs, inventory is the primary "R" that needs "P" by the "E." Which means that inventory management is a critical, foundational element of what are, should be and will become sound ERP policies and practices.

The folks at Fishbowl understand this, and more. Which is why Fishbowl Inventory and Fishbowl Enterprise are designed in ways that make them easy to use and rapid to deliver measurable, scalable and sustainable business benefit.

It's a premise-based solution, something I don't recommend frequently. But I think this one is worth considering, especially if you're already running QuickBooks on computers that reside on your company's premises. (Fishbowl pricing starts at $4,195 and free trials are available.)

If your company makes and sells physical goods, you already know that inventory management is a drag on your colleagues and your company. Even if you don't, you have pools of assets that matter to your business, from the things you do sell to the people who sell and buy them. Each of these represents an inventory that requires management. Accurate, agile and responsive management, if you expect your company to compete effectively as more commerce moves online and under the control of buyers. So good inventory management buys your business a lot.

Take a good look at Fishbowl Inventory and Fishbowl Enterprise as potential solutions for your business. Then look at them as indicators of how your business might learn to collaborate on and love the resource management processes it needs to succeed and thrive.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Business Knowledge Optimization: The "Next Big Idea" in Collaboration

What does your business know? About itself, its competitors, the forces shaping its key markets, what its customers think of it and its competitors, or how its customers make purchase decisions?

How well does your business use what it knows to improve how it does business? How prepared is your business to turn what it knows into business benefit, today and tomorrow?

Many business decision makers have no idea how to begin answering the questions above, but it's not their fault. Business knowledge – information framed in a relevant, actionable business context – is often undervalued and poorly managed, if it's managed at all. At the smartest companies, the business knows what it knows and how best to use that knowledge.

Those two things define everything significant about every modern business. So taking a holistic approach to the collection, curation and leverage of business knowledge can maximize the agility, responsiveness and competitiveness of any business. Such an approach is what I mean when I say business knowledge optimization (BKO).

Does your business need BKO? Here are some signs that it does.
  1. Your competition is consistently "eating your lunch." 
  2. Your customers are upset, and you're not sure why, or how many are upset, or what to do about it. 
  3. Your partners are wary or confused about your road map for the future of your relationships with them. 
  4. There are no clearly defined or well-enforced policies, practices, or processes in place for collecting and leveraging knowledge consistently across the organization. 
  5. There are no clearly defined or well-enforced policies, practices, or processes in place for ensuring that business-critical knowledge is retained when those who know it leaves the business. (You might know this as "institutional memory.")

What are the key elements of BKO? They include but are not limited to the following.
  • Any and all collaboration and information-sharing tools your business uses today. 
  • Any and all information repositories (such as databases) and the tools used to manage them, both premise- and cloud-based. 
  • Any and all solutions used by your business for backup, recovery or remote storage of business-critical information. 
  • Any and all tools and services used to capture, document or manage business processes. 
  • Any and all information collected or provided by any and all tools that "touch" or are "touched" by any colleagues, customers, partners, prospects or others who matter to your business. (Examples include tools and services for customer care, support incident management and employee feedback collection. Additional examples include Web site analytics and social media monitoring and reporting tools, which also happen to be critical to a related big idea, online experience optimization (OEO).) 
BKO also requires a level of process consistency and enforcement that is ubiquitous yet unobtrusive to succeed. This is because your business needs to capture as much information as it can about and from as many sources as it can to ensure that its knowledge is accurate, timely and actionable. At some companies this will mean revisiting almost everything about the processes that drive the business. At some companies, it will mean visiting these operational areas for the first time.

I'll have lots more to say about BKO here and elsewhere, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, you can help my research into this critical area by taking my brief BKO survey, anonymously if you prefer. You can take the survey and request summary findings at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/P6KZKSX. You can also take two equally brief surveys on OEO at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JJVTC6J and https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WFCM2KR. Thanks for your help – please tell everyone you know!

Unified Threat Management Solutions Now: Chatting with Lisa Phifer

As more and more business collaboration takes place online, threats to online security become greater threats to business agility and efficiency – and continuity. Herewith, some key take-aways from an online audio discussion and chat about unified threat management or UTM devices. These are basically computer-hardware-and-software "appliances" that automatically protect business computing and networking facilities from multiple threats, such as viruses, spam and unauthorized network intrusions. Their all-in-one design makes them affordable, manageable options even for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) and small or remote facilities of larger enterprises.

This online chat featured Lisa Phifer, president of security and networking consultancy Core Competence. She has been involved in the design, implementation, and evaluation of networking, security, and management products for more than 25 years. She was formerly a member of the technical staff at Bell Communications Research and senior staff architect at Unisys. She teaches about IT and security, has written extensively for numerous publications, and is a featured speaker at leading conferences.

The event, "Choosing the Unified Threat Management Product That's Right for Your SMB," was part of the Online Audio Series at TheSecureSMB.com, which is open to everyone with complementary registration. An archive of the audio portion of chat with Lisa is available at http://tobtr.com/s/2173127. Many thanks to The Secure SMB team and all of the chat participants for their great questions, some of which generated Lisa's guidance as summarized below.

UTM, the cloud and new network client options: One chat participant asked how UTM appliances can help companies to deal with the growth of "the mobile, social cloud," remote working and "BYOC" ("Bring Your Own Computer") initiatives. Such initiatives create an even greater role for network security solutions and their management, because business can't necessarily put security measures on every authorized device, Lisa replied.

However, "[UTM appliances] that do have the ability to fit into some type of NAC [network access control] architecture can leverage endpoint health and integrity inspection [features] to protect the net from infected devices," Lisa said. Some of those UTM appliances also offer intrusion protection features that can detect and help to "quarantine" infected device activities, she added.

Business and technology decision makers should strive to ensure close integration of the management of their chosen UTM and security solutions. Those decision makers should then invoke all of the available features of those solutions that make business sense and maximize protection against infection, Lisa affirmed.

UTM appliances vs. point solutions: Another chat participant asked, "Is it better than to have multiple devices than one device? This way you can upgrade pieces as they become the slower devices on the network [and] the costs can be managed over time," especially for cash-strapped smaller businesses.

"Multiple devices add latency and points of failure. They are also costly to replace," Lisa replied. "The idea behind UTM is to give you one device to reduce latency, management complexity, and points of failure. However, you do create a potential bottleneck – one that you can manage by upgrading the UTM [appliance] or replacing it with a larger model." Another option is to use load balancing, a feature included with some UTM appliances, to divide threat management across multiple UTM solutions.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

YouSendIt: Ensuring that Your Files are “Signed, Sealed, Delivered*”

YouSendIt has announced release of the latest iteration of its cloud-based file-sharing service. With this new release, the YouSendIt platform becomes a far more powerful cloud-based collaboration solution for businesses large and small.

In business, everyone collaborates, whether with colleagues, customers, partners or prospects. And much of that collaboration relies upon a typically large and inconsistently managed shared store of documents. These can range from text files to full-motion, full-color high-definition videos, but they share some common characteristics.

  • They need to be kept current, up-to-date and consistent, so everyone's working with the same version of the same information.
  • They need to be accessible to authorized users anywhere, anytime, on any device and connection type.
  • They need to be tracked and secured, regardless of where they are and who's using them.
  • They need to be easily authorized via signature whenever necessary.

The new YouSendIt platform answers these needs admirably.
  • Save and sync – YouSendIt users can save and sync content in the cloud with unlimited storage.
  • Anytime, anywhere access – users can access files and folders in the cloud anywhere, anytime via desktop or mobile devices.
  • Secure sending and sharing – users can collaborate with co-workers and business partners through secure file and folder sending and sharing, while the companies that own the contents of those files and folders can securely track those contents.
  • Simple signing – users can review and sign business documents online, at a desk or on the go via a PC or mobile device. (The signing feature is very, very cool on a mobile device, by the way.)
There's more. Changes to files and shared folders are instantly update and synchronized across all devices, and users are notified of changes in real time. Documents and shared folders can be saved to and accessed from the YouSendIt cloud-based folder, from or to any device. YouSendIt also allows for multiple levels of sharing permissions – read and write, read only and read only without login.

You and your colleagues have to send, share, sign and synchronize documents to do business anyway. Some of you or your colleagues may be using YouSendIt already. The basic version is free, and the company claims more than 20 million registered users. (Paid single-user plans with more features and higher capacities than the free version range in price from about $10 to about $15/month. So-called "Corporate Suite" plans range from about $1,000/year for five users, or about $17/user/month, to $3,000/year for 25 users, or about $10/user/month. Greater discounts are available for larger deployments.)

Whether or not you've looked at competing solutions, this latest release of YouSendIt is clearly worth your perusal – and I'd love to know your feedback.

*With apologies to the great Stevie Wonder. :-D

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Preton: Making Printing Less Expensive, More Efficient and More Green

Sometimes, a long memory helps with perspective. Sometimes, it's just irritating. Sometimes, it's both.

I remember the promises of office automation in the 1970s included that of the "paperless office." Instead, adoption of information technology increased and printing needs grew prodigiously.

Today, printing and its attendant costs, especially those of ink, toner and paper, are facts of life at most companies, despite those e-mail footers that remind users to "think before they print." And policies intended to reduce those costs, such as advising users to print in draft or duplex mode, are inconsistently applied and all but unenforceable.

Even worse, many business decision makers have no real idea how much printing is costing their companies. Despite the fact that inkjet printing ink can cost $8 to $10 thousand dollars per gallon and that an average employee can print 10 to 20 thousand pages per year, according to widely published estimates. This lack of visibility into actual printing costs makes credible, quantifiable business arguments in favor of investments that reduce those costs difficult to make.

These dynamics were largely responsible to the business media attention given to reports in 2010 of a default font change at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. The university switched its default printing font from Arial to Century Gothic and saw printing ink requirements fall by some 30 percent, according to those reports.

However, there is no consistently effective way of enforcing such a change across most enterprises. Even the University gave users the option of reverting to the original default font, almost assuring at least some deviation from the policy.

What's needed are tools that enable and enforce printing practices that consistently reduce costs significantly and measurably. These tools must be applicable to all printers in an enterprise, and cannot interfere with or change how IT is used or managed in any way. Business decision makers also need the ability to know what printing is costing their companies, and how printing is being used, to optimize the business value of their investments in printing equipment and supplies.

Fortunately, such tools exist. Preton Ltd., founded in 2005 and headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel, has been shipping such solutions for years. (Leading technology market-watchers at Gartner named Preton a "Cool Vendor" in 2006.) The company's PretonSaver family of solutions uses patent-pending "Pixel Optimizer Technology" algorithms to analyze documents and then to print them in ways that save ink or toner without visibly degrading image quality. Independent testers found that Preton solutions can cut ink/toner consumption by as much as 70 percent for text and 50 percent for graphics and images while retaining acceptable readability.

PretonSaver software, installed on individual PCs or shared servers, operates transparently, requiring no changes to installed printers, printer drivers or application software. And the PretonSaver Premium and Enterprise editions (for 25 to 500 and unlimited users, respectively) can be configured for centralized implementation, enforcement and management of policies designed to reduce costs, enable greener business operations or to meet specific business needs.

For example, duplex printing – the printing of two content pages per sheet of paper – is often difficult and daunting for users to invoke from their editing applications or their printer control panels. PretonSaver Enterprise software can be configured to implement duplex printing across all networked printers and to invoke it automatically for every print request, if desired. It also offers detailed insights into who's printing what and how much each print job and printer is costing the company.

Most recently, Preton has begun offering the PretonSaver Home edition, designed for homes and offices with up to three PCs, as a free download. The software installs easily and requires no set-up or registration. And like all editions, it allows flexible choice of savings levels and print quality, for text, photos and graphics, as well as automatic omission of images from print requests.

Today, PretonSaver software runs on Microsoft Windows XP (with Service Pack (SP) 2), Windows Vista and both 32- and 64-bit Windows 7. The company is planning support for Linux and Macintosh operating systems as well, CEO and Founder Ori Eizenberg told me.

There are other solutions that promise to reduce printing costs. Notable among these are Ecofont, ecoPrint2 and InkSaver. However, InkSaver and EcoPrint2 are only available in editions for individual/SOHO (small office/home office) use, and EcoFont only reduces ink/toner consumption for text printing, not graphics or images. Also, none of these other offerings supports as many versions of Windows or as many types of printers or content as the PretonSaver offerings. And none of these alternatives supports Preton's Pixel Optimizer algorithms, nor offers annual subscription billing options available from Preton.

Whether or not you or your company cares about being "greener," both you and your company care about saving more "green" (or whatever color the money is where you are). In that regard, you need to manage your printers and printing in ways that produce ink/toner cost savings and provide visibility into what printing costs now and why. You also need comprehensive manageability of printers and enforcement of business rules and policies across all printers and users. These features will help you to optimize printing across your entire enterprise, even if you only have one printer.

I believe the PretonSaver solutions offer these features in ways that are affordable, easy to use and easy to deploy and manage. Further, I think the free Home edition could help to create potential "ambassadors" for the corporate editions, as those home users talk up Preton among friends and colleagues.

If you've got one or more Windows PCs and one or more printer, I encourage you to download the free PretonSaver Home edition, or a free trial of the Standard or Premium edition. I further encourage you to start using it, and perhaps to compare it to one or more of the alternative offerings I've mentioned. You may become one of those ambassadors, at your own organization and beyond.